Longlisted for The Women’s Prize 2022, This One Sky Day by Leone Ross is a wondrous affair, brimful of light and life. Set on the imaginary Caribbean archipelago of Popisho, a place where magic is perpetually afoot, it follows a momentous day in the life of its inhabitants. Unrest lurks in many forms, including meteorological, as the stories of a silver-fingered healer and ex-addict chef entwine in a magical realist novel of love and grief, dosed with a spike of political satire.
With the most English sounding of titles, Egyptian 1964 classic Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali portrays Ram, a penniless and charming Egyptian Copt who lives well off his wealthy aunts, his own father having lost a fortune on the ‘bourse’. Seduced by the sophistication of Europe, Ram and his friend Font travel to London to immerse themselves in the political and cultural ideas of the time. Meanwhile, Egypt is going through its own political upheaval with the end of British imperialism, Nasser’s revolution and a burgeoning Communist movement. Which side, if any, will Ram come down on?
Michael Cash believes that coal mining has stolen his boyhood, blighted his adulthood and may well send him to an early grave. In the brooding Mercia’s Take by Daniel Wiles, we join him in the dark heart of the English industrial revolution as he battles to save his young son from the same fate. Desperation, vengeance, and the unholy lure of gold, drives a tale where the blackness seeping into Michael’s lungs threatens to invade his very soul.
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If your experience of transformative insect fiction is limited to the Kafkaesque, then it’s high time you met the ‘heralding quiver’ of cockroach antennae in The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector. A novel that demands the utmost concentration, this Brazilian modern classic tells the story of a somewhat intense sculptress, who discovers a large cockroach in her home. Her initial attempt at extermination leaves the creature slowly dying in front of her eyes, a protracted process that sparks a full-blown existential crisis. Enlightenment, madness, or possibly both, await.
The Years by Annie Ernaux is an unusual book, a sort of communal memoir mapping the personal story of Ernaux alongside the social and political history of France (and the world) between 1940 and 2006. This might sound a bit dry and academic, but The Years is strangely compelling, mainly because it speaks our own memories, of time passing and things changing. There were references here that went above my non-French head and I’m sure a native French would find this book even more poignant. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of it though. The experience of time passing seems as universal as anything.
It’s 1967, and while London is swinging, the home counties are abstaining. There’s certainly no Bohemian aura around suburban housewife, Phyllis Fischer. Forty and fragrant, Phyllis enjoys an elegant life of propriety, her days revolving around her family and social circle. Her complacency is set to be shattered when an intoxicating secret kiss ignites a desire for sexual and intellectual freedom. But at what price? Free Love by Tessa Hadley is a magnificently astute portrayal of family upheaval and compromise, set in an English decade itself in flux.
There are voices we don’t hear from often enough in literature. Shuggie, the young son of an alcoholic in Shuggie Bain, is one example; Kristina, or Inni, in The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg, another. A drug addict and prostitute about to be murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable, invisible to society until, for a fleeting moment, she grabs the public’s attention as a victim of a horrific crime. Inni, talks to us from the afterlife, taking us through the day of the crime and how she got there. It’s a tough read this book, mainly because of the graphic violence but perhaps even more because it holds up a mirror to ourselves and our society’s failure to see people like Inni. Shell shockingly good.
Curious about Putin and what is going on in Russia? Bill Browder’s Red Notice gives one man’s insight into Putin’s Russia, a fascinating and frightening real-life thriller that will give any spy fiction author a run for their money. Read our full review here.