...something short (but good!)

Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

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Western Lane

A debut novelist of brilliant promise

Longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2024, and appearing on last year’s Booker shortlist, Western Lane by Chetna Maroo is a spare, tender novel of grief and loss, told from the viewpoint of bereaved 11-year-old Gopi in her unique search for resilience through the game of squash. Following the untimely death of her mother, Gopi’s struggling father has launched his three daughters into an intense regime at Western Lane sports centre. Here, on the squash court, Gopi will find space to breathe and contemplate a world of adult silences and the challenges of adolescence in a cross-cultural family.

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The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan

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The Long-Winded Lady

A captivating and stylish peek at bygone New York

An unearthed gem for lovers of the Big Apple, The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan is a gloriously evocative collection of vignettes of New York life between 1954 and 1981. Originally written for The New Yorker as a series of observational pieces, Brennan captures the city in a state of  flux, reporting from street scenes, hotel lobbies, and more often than not, the window table of an elegant bar. From here, as a wry and solitary observer and unashamed eavesdropper, Brennan gives us the lowdown on a city where it’s never too early to order a martini.

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Ice by Anna Kavan

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Ice

A hallucinatory journey into eternal winter

A nameless man of military persuasion is in pursuit of a silvery-haired girl; tracking her across an unearthly white snowscape, he is intent on possessing her in more ways than one. We will never learn his name, the girl’s name, or even their location. In the 1967 dystopian classic, Ice by Anna Kavan, we’re taken to a frigid, blanched world that is being engulfed by avalanches of ice and snow, the cause of which appears to be unknown. As society breaks down under the weight of misinformation, fuel and food shortages and the inexorable advance of icy doom, the girl keeps running and the man keeps pursuing.

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Orbital by Samantha Harvey

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Orbital

A profound meditation on our lonely planet

It’s a Tuesday morning in October, and hundred of kilometres above Earth, six astronauts snooze weightlessly in their sleeping bags. The uncleared paraphernalia of last night’s dinner sits in the galley, while beyond the spacecraft’s titanium shell, ‘the universe unfolds in simple eternities.’ In the beautiful Orbital by Samantha Harvey, we spend one day and sixteen orbits of the Earth in the astronauts’ company, as they reconcile their scientific objectives with existential contemplation and the insistent human buzz emanating from our lonely planet.

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Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

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Split Tooth

Mesmerising indigenous Arctic tale

A bildungsroman unlike any other, Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq takes us to the Canadian Arctic and a landscape of boundless terrain and immense skies. It’s the 1970’s and a young Inuk girl tells of her childhood in this extraordinary environment, where deprivation and discrimination sit uneasily beside a magical northern world of nature and mythology. When puberty arrives, it will bestow a shamanic gift upon the girl and prompt her, incredibly, to seek communion with the Northern Lights.

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Enter the Water by Jack Wiltshire

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Enter the Water

A brilliantly idiosyncratic call to courage

Early on in Enter the Water by Jack Wiltshire, we’re casually told that there’s no hero story to be found here, but by the end of this exhilarating verse novel, you may well disagree. It tells the story of a vulnerable Cambridge student, evicted from his flat and sleeping on a park bench. Setting out on an odyssey to the coast, accompanied by pigeons, a blackbird and the forces of Nature itself, his story is a clarion call for appreciating the natural world and cultivating stoicism in our infinitely troubled times.

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Berg by Ann Quin

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Berg

Darkly funny Oedipal tale

The opening scene of the brilliant Berg by Ann Quin takes us to a post-war seaside boarding house, where Alistair Berg, hair-restorer salesman and furtive masturbator, lies uneasy in his bed. In the flimsily-partitioned room next door, Berg’s father resides with his flirtatious mistress, unaware of his son’s presence. A ‘scoundrel of the first order,’ the old man deserted Berg in babyhood, and now his vengeful son has come to kill him. In Quin’s 1964 absurdist cult classic, we follow Berg as his tendency towards vacillation causes his master plan to unravel, in the face of a string of farcical events and unhinged decisions.

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The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah

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The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

Blistering Ghanaian novel of post-colonial disillusionment

Steel yourself for The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah, one of the bleakest novels I’ve read in a long time, but also one of the most memorable. First published in 1968, this African modern classic explores the rise of  disillusionment and corruption in post-independence Ghana, through the weary eyes of an anonymous railway clerk. His noble refusal to become a sell-out invites dismay and derision from his materialistic nearest and dearest, in this acerbic tale of ennui and moral decay.

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Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

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Study for Obedience

Elegant and distinctive outsider novel

An oblique novel of sacrifice and survival, Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein tells the story of a young woman who uproots her life and moves to a remote part of Northern Europe, in order to become her brother’s housekeeper and companion. Her martyrish aims to be good, quiet, and to serve others, are taking a toll on her embattled ego, and there’s something else. Something uncanny about her which invites suspicion and hostility from the local residents. Our unnamed protagonist fears that there is something in her blood that makes people recoil, a frisson of foreboding setting the scene for a disturbing tale.

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Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh

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Cursed Bread

A beguiling and erotically charged mystery

Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh is a wonderfully enigmatic and mesmerising read, by an author whose presence sings from the Granta Best Young British Novelists 2023 list. An acknowledged purveyor of disquieting fiction, here Mackintosh introduces us to Elodie, a frustrated baker’s wife in post-war provincial France. Spending her days mired in gossip and domesticity, the bored young woman is ripe for seduction. It comes in the form of a dashing young ambassador and his wife, the beautiful and damaged Violet, their arrival heralding a sultry, sexy summer, and a rash of darkly peculiar goings on.

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