The Past

Tessa Hadley

Reviewed by Alison Burns

Hadley is very good on this hitherto close-knit family’s assumptions, sensitivities and ‘tipping-points’, and their ways of provoking each other: ‘They knew each other so well, all too well, and yet they were all continually surprised by the forgotten difficult twists and turns of one another’s personalities, so familiar as soon as they appeared’ [Read more...] in Reviews

The Book of Memory

Petina Gappah

Reviewed by Zoë Fairbairns

A Zimbabwean woman called Memory is in prison in Harare awaiting execution for the murder of a man who, she believes, bought her from her parents when she was nine years old.
Her death is delayed by the lack of hangmen: ‘In addition to all the other shortages – no doctors, no nurses, no teachers, no books, no democracy, no sense – we are enduring a chronic shortage of people willing to tie nooses, slip them around the necks of their fellow men, string them up and drop them to their deaths’ [Read more...] in Reviews

Did You Ever Have a Family

Bill Clegg

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

American fiction writers are notably skilled at writing readable, upper middle brow stories of domestic development, usually featuring the middle classes. Redemption and family life tend to figure large. Clegg’s novel can be classified in this group, but what elevates it is not just its technical construction – and some non-middle-class figures – but its range [Read more...] in Reviews

August Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

Reviewed by N.J. Cooper

For pure pleasure, Judith Flanders’s Sam Clair series takes some beating, and the latest, A Bed of Scorpions, is just as engaging as the rest. Sam is a publisher and works in the chaos that I remember well from my own days as an editor. Her mother, on the other hand, is a lawyer of impeccable self-discipline and dress. She seems to work all the available hours and yet still manages to attend every important arts event in London. The relationship between the two of them works beautifully. Sam also has a boyfriend in CID, which both helps and frustrates her each time she becomes embroiled in crime and finds herself investigating [Read more...] in Reviews

Pond

Claire-Louise Bennett

Reviewed by Alison Burns

In this first collection of stories , Claire-Louise Bennett’s unnamed female narrator (I shall call her ‘B’) reports from a place to which she has withdrawn in order to think, write and collect herself. From the first piece (in which little girls go trespassing), to the last (in which ‘morning waits on its high swing’), we know we are in the hands of someone who pays great attention to the world and is often rewarded with a kind of ecstasy. Unusually, she is also very funny [Read more...] in Stories

The Redemption of Galen Pike

Carys Davies

Reviewed by Alison Burns

These stories ask questions, and they offer precision imagery. Again and again, the detail stops you in your tracks. A young woman making a fuss at a wedding provokes the throwing of a stone, which ‘sent her flying off her little box like a skittle, or a coconut’. Elsewhere, a drowned body is to the gathering women as heavy as ‘a hammock full of stones’ [Read more...] in Reviews

Brief Loves That Live Forever

Andreï Makine

Reviewed by Siân Miles

From the Stygian darkness of a State-run Soviet orphanage in the early and pre-Brezhnev years, the narrator of Brief Lives That Live Forever, a literally ground-breaking novel, tells a tale of smashed stones turning into nuggets of gold. The orphans are roughly fed and sheltered with the aim of their becoming manual labourers. Coarsened, boys and girls alike, by the expectation of a limited future, some of the children nevertheless retain a fathomless and inalienable understanding of, as well as a sensitivity to, the invisible yet omnipresent possibility of love [Read more...] in Reviews