Adam Mars-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
At first, it’s difficult to know what to make of Adam Mars-Jones’ Batlava Lake. Originally published in France in 2017, and now brought to us by Fitzcarraldo Editions, it’s a digressive, rambling monologue told from the perspective of Barry Ashon, a civil engineer with an unhappy past and more than a few axes to grind.
But although the novella initially appears to be meandering its way to nowhere, it gradually reveals itself to be a magic trick: an exacting character study of a man out of step with the world, his dated and often misguided values exemplifying the pitfalls of the perceived masculine ideals he grew up with.
Mars-Jones is a master of the telling detail (“Nothing wrong with a nice creamy korma, but sometimes – you just feel like a vindaloo. Tell me I’m wrong!”) and his increasing use of exclamation marks throughout the book heightens the sense that Barry is living in denial, like Colin in the equally excellent Box Hill, and that we are only hearing one side of the story. It’s an exquisite feat, a complicated character unravelled with simple language: Mars-Jones can do more in a hundred pages than most writers can do in a thousand.
Price: £10.99/£4.99 Ebook. Info: here
words JOSHUA REES
THE BOOK OF KATERINA
Auguste Corteau [trans. Claire Papamichali] (Parthian)
This Greek novel, translated into English for the first time, reads as if being told in person. Spanning three generations of the author’s family, it starts at the end; hard-hitting, the pseudonymously-named Auguste Corteau ruminates on the role of the dynasty’s women, and the attitudes towards their mental stability, throughout the narrative. It feels, at times, like a eulogy for the writer’s mother.
Each chapter is short, punchy and concise, its sentence structure making it one to devour in a single sitting. Blurring reality and fiction, The Book Of Katerina serves as a testament to family life and imperfections. There is no artifice, or attempt to smooth out any of the issues surrounding this family. We encounter incidents involving a butchered tutu; a banana liqueur is mistaken for a harmless beverage.
Yet the hidden sadness a family embodies within itself is on full display: here, love comes with restrictions, and it feels like with each moment of kindness is countered with hatred by Corteau’s other siblings. The imagination of this writer knows no bounds and I truly enjoyed reading this.
Price: £9. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING
Nancy Tucker (Hutchinson)
While its title evokes a time of hope, Nancy Tucker’s debut novel imagines the life of a child after committing murder. The First Day Of Spring’sstory is narrated in the past and the present by the same character: Chrissie is introduced as having killed a two-year-old boy in the past, and now goes by Julia, released from her sentence and with a child of her own.
As crimes go, this is a harrowing case, loosely based on notorious 1960s killer Mary Bell. It’s difficult to comprehend how such a dreadful act can be committed; Nancy Tucker, though, delves into the mindset of Chrissie and conveys a devastating tale of survival. Inadequate care during her young life provides an understanding – not, crucially, an explanation or excuse – of the behaviour and feelings that led to such events.
Contrasting chapters from the young Chrissie and adult Julia prove powerful, and provide insight into how the latter would navigate life. Important questions about redemption – second chances – are raised, too, with feelings of sympathy divided between perpetrator and victim. The First Day Of Spring is adevastating, impactive debut – its impression will stay in my mind for a while yet.
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
LOVE THAT JOURNEY FOR ME: THE QUEER REVOLUTION OF SCHITT’S CREEK
Emily Garside (404 Ink)
Emily Garside’s heartening work is a magnificent, celebratory text to spend time with that dissects the layered nuances of Eugene and Dan Levy’s award-winning series from the perspective of someone who resolutely understands and recognises its significance. Discussing why it transgresses the existing landscape of queer television and art, Garside lucidly and passionately explores the series, drawing richly on its subversive plotlines, use of genre, costume, and references to queer popular culture, which results in an accessible, informed, and illuminating read that vividly documents and details the modestly radical Schitt’s Creek.
Space is devoted to demonstrating the radical depictions of defining moments of LGBTQ+ experiences within the programme: adult coming out stories, revelations and confirmations of queer love, explorations of identities and the empowering vision of a town where prejudice does not exist, its citizens triumphantly embracing difference.
Garside’s previous work and extensive critical knowledge of contemporary queer culture, together with her personal anecdotes and experiences, further enlighten the book, cementing her account of the vitality of Schitt’s Creek. Love That Journey For Me offers an empowering illustration of the optimism and revolutionary impact of the series, one as joyful to experience as revisiting the show itself.
Price: £7.50. Info: here
words CHLOË EDWARDS
SAVE OUR BIRDS
Matt Sewell (Ebury)
I think it says something of an illustrator if you recognise their artworks even if you’re unable to name them. Matt Sewell is such a one. His works have been exhibited in many major cities of the world; he’s also a bestselling author, and his latest book demonstrates his passion for wildlife, climate change, and caring for nature. That makes Save Our Birds both passionate and engaging, as well as charming, full of beautiful, captivating illustrations as it is, and bound within high quality paper as a pretty, dinky hardback.
Suitable for all ages, this is a book which celebrates birds currently on the – endangered – ‘Red List’ in Britain. Surprisingly, this includes common urban avians such as the starling, thrush, and house sparrow. I was saddened to learn this, but heartened by the tone and style of Sewell’s writing, which aims to inspire, and which encourages every reader to find ways to help.
A keen ornithologist, Sewell’s bird book is bewitching and lovely, with each feathered creature given a double page consisting of text on one side and a gorgeous watercolour on the other. Although the topic is cause for concern, and we must take “swift action”, this book was a real pleasure to read, and is one I’m enjoying dipping into most days.
Price: £12. Info: here
words MAB JONES
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