Sinead Moriarty (Sandycove)
Alice and Niall; Ann and Ken; Orla and Paul. About Us follows a trio of loosely connected relationships, all of which are in varying stages of incompleteness when we’re introduced to them, and their journey with couples therapist Maggie. Sex therapy is very much fiction’s hobby horse at the moment, thanks mainly to Netflix’s massively successful Sex Education, but the cheerful, Instagram-ready cover didn’t exactly inspire confidence in me that the subject would be handled properly. I was completely wrong.
Everything from libido differences and vaginismus are dissected and presented in a healthy yet readable manner. Fear not, for it never becomes preachy, and it certainly doesn’t stop the rollercoaster plot from feeling fun, but it’s a refreshing change to the representation of relationship troubles.
And yes, the book’s central lover, Paul, is the type of guy that only exists in Mills & Boon books and middle-aged mums’ daydreams: a sexy, doe-eyed and successful lawyer who cares for pretty much nothing beyond his daughter and partner. But About Us is far from WHSmith fodder, and, while it retains the same dialogue-heavy, witty and fast-paced writing style that lets the pages fly by, readers may pick up some useful tricks along the way.
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words ALEX PAYNE
FLOWERS OF WAR
Llŷr Gwyn Lewis [trans. Katie Gramich] (Parthian)
Although classified as a novel, Flowers Of War is unusual: composed of what appears on initial glance to be a single first-person narrative, without any discernible dialogue. Upon reading, you realise that it’s more shifting, wide-ranging, and innovative than that, moving between forms such as diary, letter, and public records, as well as memoir and travelogue.
Its interiority, then, is less pretentiously Proustian than vibrantly alert, more capable of movement between literary forms, and the writing itself, whilst introspective and thoughtful, also looks out at the world, which in this tale is lively and changing, mirroring the author’s own dextrous mutability: “one minute … the sun would be shining all day from an azure blue sky, the next minute we were hurtling towards a threatening dark raincloud.”
This is a book about memory, history, and the imagination; Llŷr Gwyn Lewis has an innate sense of how our sensory perception entwines with our mental processes, in particular that of remembrance: “a sudden whiff of rosemary … awoke my memory.” The intimate tone of the tale is also engaging, as we travel alongside the novel’s I on their explorations both through Europe and into the past. Beautifully, lucidly written, this is an honest and interesting tale and, like its narrator, I left the book “still gazing at that splendid view”.
Price: £9. Info: here
words MAB JONES
THE GIANT DARK
Sarvat Hasin (Dialogue)
Adorned with a beauteous and rich cover that depicts the complexity of its plot, this novel is almost glacial in pace, but holds a sense of the ancient and of the oral tradition of storytelling. At times, I found myself lost in the interactions of protagonists Aida and Ehsan: a musician and her lover, artist and muse, Orpheus and Eurydice (the myth of whom serves as inspiration for The Giant Dark). This is a novel of love, of fame, and of what happens when a person and the vision of that person are no longer inseparable.
A mythical winding of narrative during the opening part of the novel is juxtaposed by the intense shift in its second part, with myriad emotions, settings, and character traits. Shifting from third to second person narrative as Ehsan’s story is revealed, this juxtaposed with the invasive, possessive fan voice, the woven threads work incredibly well together. Ehsan, the muse in this story, is captured through Aida’s lens: both the female and male gaze, and their differences, are explored. I came into The Giant Dark thinking I was getting a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; what I got was a literary subversion of the form.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
Jamie Marina Lau (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Compelling, original and affronting, Gunk Baby is a novel which benefits from its social commentary and portrays the innate beauty within cross-continental cultures. Throughout a childhood spent moving between different countries, one thing was constant for Leen: the local shopping centre, an ever-present landscape of brightly coloured logos, overbearing lights, a climate-controlled environment and banal interactions between worker and consumer. Now settled in Australia, Leen decides to open a studio in her local shopping complex, offering an ancient Chinese method of ear-cleaning taught to her by her mother. It’s the perfect location, she believes, to build a business.
Here we find a landscape where consumerism drives us to buy things we don’t need, where otherness can be used to manipulate and where a person’s worth is measured by the role they play. Gunk Baby is abundant with acerbic critique and dissection of capitalism, materialism, sleek modernity and hedonism: a sinister and disturbing consumerist horror story. What if you trust the wrong person? And what if that person is not looking to heal but to destroy?
With commanding storytelling and sharp wit, Jamie Marina Lau brings to life a devastatingly vivid world.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
THE PAPER PALACE
Miranda Cowley Heller (Penguin)
A deliciously lyrical novel with short, sharp sentences, unique descriptions and a handsome plot that unfolds at a captivating pace, the tensions and the fire in The Paper Palace will surely resonate with its readers. At her family summer camp, Elle is haunted by an act of betrayal that she instigated. With the beauty of her environment contrasting with the ugly chaos inside herself, she must address what she has done and ask herself what she genuinely wants.
Her husband Peter, a wonderful husband and father, has no idea that Elle has broken the trust: sharing in a passionate encounter on the camp’s premises, yards from where her family had been dining. Jonas, her long-term best friend and a married man to an oblivious wife, has loved Elle from a tender age. And it seems his desire never faltered. Having invited Jonas to live out his fantasies in her moment of weakness, how can Elle look him, or her dearly beloved, in the eye again, without a telling and painful flinch?
Weaving between the dangerous yet excitable now and the years of ungodly traumas passed, this masterful tale of childhood love will wash over you like the refreshing, cold waters of The Paper Palace’s nearby lake.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words KARLA BRADING
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