Last Stories by William Trevor review – the master’s final dispatches

This posthumous collection about ‘long-dead marriages’ and ‘fizzled-out affairs’ is full of the Irish writer’s formidable craft

Loneliness prevails in this final collection from the Irish writer William Trevor, who died in 2016, aged 88. Whether set in the country or the city, in Ireland, where Trevor grew up, or England, where he made his home in the 1950s, these are melancholy tales of self-deceiving widows and widowers stymied by heartache and half-remembered tragedy, of long-dead marriages and fizzled-out affairs, fuelled by the discreet irony of a third person who stays close to the consciousness of his characters while enabling us to perceive what they can’t.

While it’s a device that can flatter the reader (“Very Heathcliffian,” a girl is told by her tutor, walking on a moor in the story An Idyll in Winter, “and she didn’t understand what he meant”), Trevor reserves the right to punish us ...

Connect by Julian Gough review – on the run from Dad and his drones

This stimulating tale of a coder and his mum is a hyper-digital thriller with hints of Fifty Shades of Grey

“I hardly read Irish writers any more,” said Julian Gough in 2010. “Novel after novel set in the 1970s, 60s, 50s... you wouldn’t know television had been invented.”

Although Gough’s mischievous dig at his peers predated a startling upsurge of exceptional new fiction from Ireland in recent years, it’s fair to say that the current scene remains hyper-literary in flavour, with Beckettian dramatisations of consciousness (see Eimear McBride or Claire-Louise Bennett) more common than all-action thrills and spills of the kind dished up in Gough’s apocalyptic new novel, Connect, a hi-tech chase narrative in low-slung prose.

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In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne – review

Three teenagers come of age on a troubled north London estate in Gunaratne’s rich, authentic debut

Set over two days of race riots on a north London estate, Guy Gunaratne’s debut novel begins with a prologue from Yusuf, one of its three teenage narrators, reflecting on the recent murder of an off-duty soldier, “butchered by a homegrown bredda” filmed “shouting into the camera about the infidel”. What shocks Yusuf most is that he feels closest not to the victim but to the killer, who “spoke the same road slang we used” and looked “as if he had just rolled out the same school gates as us... his face like a mirror, reflecting our own confused and frightened hearts”.

This echo of the 2013 murder of Lee Rigby sets the stage for a novel on similar turf to Kamila Shamsie’s recent Home Fire, about a teenage Londoner lured by ...

Patient X by David Peace review – a curious collage

David Peace’s attempt to inhabit the mind of the late, tortured Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa exposes the limitations of his style

Is “writing” quite the right word to describe what David Peace does these days? Arguably, the most enjoyable passage in Red Or Dead, his pulverisingly repetitive novel about how Bill Shankly made Liverpool the best team in Europe, was the 25-page transcript of Shankly’s radio interview with Harold Wilson – a rare moment of light relief from the other 700 pages, made up of endless restatement of, for instance, match statistics arranged in relentless rhythm barrelling across the page.

Of course Peace didn’t actually write it – which isn’t to downplay his skill in placing this found text at the right moment, or his invention in cutting up and repeating match statistics, such as attendance figures and team sheets, to build the texture of the book. His new ...

Patient X by David Peace review – a curious collage

David Peace’s attempt to inhabit the mind of the late, tortured Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa exposes the limitations of his style

Is “writing” quite the right word to describe what David Peace does these days? Arguably, the most enjoyable passage in Red Or Dead, his pulverisingly repetitive novel about how Bill Shankly made Liverpool the best team in Europe, was the 25-page transcript of Shankly’s radio interview with Harold Wilson – a rare moment of light relief from the other 700 pages, made up of endless restatement of, for instance, match statistics arranged in relentless rhythm barrelling across the page.

Of course Peace didn’t actually write it – which isn’t to downplay his skill in placing this found text at the right moment, or his invention in cutting up and repeating match statistics, such as attendance figures and team sheets, to build the texture of the book. His new ...

Dead Men’s Trousers by Irvine Welsh – a last hurrah for Renton and company

The heroes of Trainspotting keep on giving – albeit in increasingly cartoonish form

Irvine Welsh’s style is so pulpy nowadays that it’s hard to imagine Booker prize judges losing time arguing over his sexual politics, as they are said to have done before ruling out his 1993 debut, Trainspotting, for the misogyny of its heroin-addicted protagonist, Renton, and his fellow Edinburgh low-lifes, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud.

Welsh has since tended to play safer, softening the cynicism of that novel for preachier, more farcical capers that take care to turn the tables on their unreconstructed male leads (while still relying on them for tang). Somewhere along the way, though, the prose has grown uneven: much of Dead Men’s Trousers – a fifth and apparently last hurrah for Renton and company, now in middle age – unfolds in the kind of airport-thriller gush (champagne is a “bubbling elixir”; people don’t ...

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey review – a priest turns cop

A man of God is tasked with finding a murderer in this rich and urgent 15th-century mystery

That Samantha Harvey’s new novel should present itself as a medieval detective mystery might seem something of a U-turn for a writer who once spoke of having renounced “the impulse to put something more marketable” in her work.

Previously she has explored dementia (The Wilderness), the idea of how a modern-day Socrates would fare (All Is Song) and – before everyone went mad for Elena Ferrante – a female friendship gone vengefully sour (Dear Thief). But while ostensibly a change of tack, The Western Wind, about a priest who purports to investigate the drowning of a wealthy landowner, sticks to her abiding theme of how easily memory – a matter of belief – can lapse into self-deception.

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The Melody by Jim Crace review – a story with real bite

A singer is attacked by a night-time intruder in Crace’s typically tricksy novel, a meditation on grief and poverty

“I also ought to thank the people of...” That’s how the acknowledgments to Jim Crace’s new novel end, mid-sentence at the foot of the page, as if in error. Although this is the kind of game Crace has played ever since his 1986 debut, Continent, which fabricated an epigraph from “the Histories of Pycletius”, no one imagined he was joking when he noted in his acknowledgments to his last novel, 2013’s Booker-shortlisted Harvest, that he had “enjoyed a fortunate career in books and publishing” – an ominously solemn observation that sounded (as interviews confirmed) a lot like goodbye.

Well, maybe Crace played us yet again, because here he is once more, on typically strange, slippery form. It starts when the concert singer Alfred Busi is attacked by a mysterious ...

The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet – review

An accomplished, multilayered crime story set in France from the Booker-shortlisted Scottish author

Had Graeme Macrae Burnet not made last year’s Booker shortlist with his previous novel, His Bloody Project, you probably wouldn’t be reading this review: it wouldn’t exist. After all, Burnet’s Maigret-influenced debut, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, went unnoticed outside his native Scotland. But the enterprise of his publisher Saraband (once of Glasgow, now based in Salford), the wisdom of the 2016 panel – and the quality of His Bloody Project, about a crofter’s son bound for the gallows after a triple murder to which he has confessed guilt but not motive – have won Burnet a keen audience for his next move.

His new novel revisits Georges Gorski, the police chief in a sleepy Alsace town featured in his debut. One autumn evening he’s disturbed in his routine of solitary drinking when Bertrand Barthelme, ...

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee review – a Booker contender?

Mukherjee recalls VS Naipaul’s In a Free State in this bleak and beautiful novel, incorporating five linked tales set in IndiaNeel Mukherjee’s bleak and beautifully written third novel offers five loosely connected scenes from modern India. The extraordinary middle segment somehow gets us rooting for an abusive father who leaves his impoverished village to chance it as a beggar in the company of a bear cub that he reckons he can make dance. Less well developed are episodes involving an exploited construction worker and the homecoming of a Kolkata-born lecturer from the US. Mukherjee sometimes uses death as a short cut to emotional impact but he also knows how to let a storyline simmer, as when a London publisher, visiting his parents in Bombay, defies etiquette to pry into the lives of their cooks. Evoking VS Naipaul’s Booker-winning In a Free State (a probable structural model), Mukherjee’s ...

Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe review – gone girl in Lincolnshire

A teenager disappears from a council estate in the unpredictable Thorpe’s multi-voiced novel, a vibrant portrayal of life in a small townAdam Thorpe’s previous novel, Flight (2012), was a globe-trotting comic thriller about a cuckolded middle-aged pilot caught up in gun-running; before that, he published Hodd (2009), a metatextual reworking of the Robin Hood myth. You can never be sure what he’ll do next, which might explain why he still doesn’t have the name recognition he deserves. In 1992, the year of his debut, Ulverton, he was apparently an “obvious choice” for Granta’s best of young British novelists, according to AS Byatt, one of the judges; so obvious, she later said, that she actually didn’t nominate him, assuming others would; they didn’t. His new novel is a vibrant ensemble piece unfolding around the disappearance of a teenage girl, Fay, from a Lincolnshire council estate. Jon McGregor’s recent Reservoir 13 ...

Spoils by Brian van Reet review – engrossing Iraq war drama

A former soldier’s debut novel exploits the conflict’s rich reserves of pathos and dreadA visceral hostage drama set during the 2003 war on Iraq, this debut novel alternates between the perspective of 19-year-old Cassandra, a gay female recruit to the US army, and that of middle-aged Abu al-Hool, an Egyptian jihadi whose memories of fighting the Russians in Afghanistan and Chechnya make him an increasingly reluctant fundamentalist. As their stories collide, Van Reet (a Texan who himself served in Iraq) can’t always prevent a certain staginess seeping in, courtesy of some excessively dutiful glosses of military jargon, while the pathos and dread of the scenario are ratcheted up by a narrative structure that keeps us one step ahead of the characters. Yet Spoils is undeniably engrossing all the same – and smart, too, embedding in its structure a sharp appraisal of the conflict, as Van Reet’s panoptic toggling between ...

In Extremis by Tim Parks review – a tour de force of a man in crisis

A linguistics professor with a bladder complaint leads to a blazingly funny morbid reckoning Several reviewers queried the title of Tim Parks’s previous novel, Thomas and Mary: A Love Story, which actually described a wilting marriage almost entirely from the husband’s point of view. As if in riposte, In Extremis (curiously not billed as a sequel) doubles down to concentrate wholly on Thomas, who at one point says he “can’t know, can I, what’s in my wife’s head? It’s not my problem.” A linguistics professor with chronic urinary trouble, he’s forced to put his pan-European junketing on hold when his cancer-stricken mother suffers a fall in Hounslow. The morbid reckoning that follows is often blazingly funny, full of squirmy physical comedy and weaselly shilly-shallying as Thomas sweats over his obligations in a pinballing monologue addressed to a lover in Madrid. Less might have been more, though, with the ...

White Tears by Hari Kunzru review – when white dudes get the blues…

Kunzru’s supernatural revenge fantasy set against a backdrop of American racism lacks nuance“I’m not even going to start playing the authenticity game... I’m the least authentic person I know,” joked Hari Kunzru, reporting on the mid-Noughties poshing-up of Hackney, where he lived before settling in Brooklyn. The A-word preoccupies his fiction, awash with problems of passing and realness. In The Impressionist, his Raj-era debut of 2002, a mixed-race protagonist sprouts multiple aliases; in My Revolutions (2007), a hard-left 1970s militant turns suburban househusband, with doubt hanging over how radical he was to begin with. His new novel concerns the occult consequences of a hoax perpetrated by two young record producers in New York. Having covertly taped a hooded black man singing the blues in a public square – they couldn’t see his face – Seth and Carter fuzz up the audio to resemble one of the sought-after inter-war ...

Ties by Domencio Starnone review – a sharply observed tale of a couple in crisis

The novel by Elena Ferrante’s huband follows a similar course to her Days of AbandonmentElena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment described a wife’s wrath at the husband who leaves her and their two children for a younger woman. Ties lays out a similar scenario from the betrayer’s point of view, which may be no coincidence, given that Domenico Starnone is married to Anita Raja, aka Elena Ferrante (allegedly). Clever, concise and astringent, it swiftly dispels any suspicion that the pair ought to just get a room or that their publisher risks bleeding the Ferrante craze dry. The narrator, an ex-screenwriter from Naples, has cause to revisit his desertion after an apparent break-in at the Rome flat he shares with his wife, the two uneasily reconciled in late age after his reckless midlife pursuit of sexual and professional desire in the 1970s. Translated at Starnone’s invitation by the US novelist ...

Hame by Annalena McAfee review – laughs between the lines

A Hebridean poet’s secret past is unearthed in this intricate satire on Scottish nationalismIn portraying a late-90s Fleet Street balanced obliviously on the brink of the internet, Annalena McAfee’s debut, The Spoiler, sent up an industry in which she’d spent 30 years. Hame – chunkier, more complex – centres on the secret life of a fictive Hebridean poet and sometime SNP candidate who dies shortly before the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. The object of McAfee’s satire this time isn’t an institution whose future defies prediction, but a nation. The vote is still two months away when Mhairi, a Canadian curator of Scottish descent, quits Brooklyn for the (invented) island of Fascaray to write a book on the recently deceased Grigor McWatt, whose Scots renderings of classic poems (“They fuck yer heid, yer maw and paw”) caught the eye of Ezra Pound. Wider fame came from his ...

Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley review – complex and agile

A new collection of her low-key, finely balanced stories of family relationships demonstrates once again Hadley’s unerring craftIt’s often intimated that a kind of literary sexism keeps Tessa Hadley’s low-key tales of home-life heartache from finding more readers. If prejudice is at play, perhaps it clings just as much to her fiction’s unglamorous Englishness, which may go down better in the US magazine market, where it’s first published. Either way, Bad Dreams shows yet again how convincingly she maps the crosscurrents of familial love and spite: in Flight, about estranged sisters, the story pivots wonderfully on the sly rejection of a gift that was itself planted in a secret act of mischief. Another theme is children’s longing for adulthood: in An Abduction, told mainly from the point of view of a neglected schoolgirl, the complexity of the narrative contrasts with the title’s brute force. Hadley’s agile sentences never ...

4321 by Paul Auster review – a long-winded coming-of-age tale

A New Jersey man leads four parallel lives in Auster’s wearying BildungsromanOne of several things Paul Auster shares with the protagonist of his new novel is an admiration for the 18th-century German writer Heinrich von Kleist, whose work (we know from Auster’s letters to JM Coetzee, published in 2013) “overwhelmed” Auster when he reread it seven years ago. “He tells and tells but doesn’t show much, which everyone says is the wrong way to go about it,” observes the hero of 4321, which might have been written to defy that boring old advice yet ends up confirming its wisdom. A Bildungsroman, it lays out four parallel lives of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, born of Russian-Jewish descent in New Jersey in 1947. An early chapter ends after an uncle burgles his father’s white goods store; the next chapter rewinds the narrative, with the store burned down, not robbed. Auster ...

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh review – a bleak collection of toxic short stories

Moshfegh’s dark vision risks tipping over into affectationThese cynical tales of toxic masculinity probably won’t appeal to anyone who found Ottessa Moshfegh’s Booker-shortlisted debut Eileen boring or repulsive, and might even give her admirers pause. With settings from China to Hollywood (where Moshfegh lives), they attack “swipe-left” misogyny while at the same time exploiting its gamey tang. “She wasn’t as fat as other women I’ve seen … but I hadn’t found her attractive for years,” says a widower of his wife. The theme of male entitlement is occasionally played for laughs - someone bankrupts himself buying used furniture in the belief it will help him seduce a vintage upcycler - but more often it’s just creepy: in Mr Wu, a violent fantasist plots how to snare the woman he’s eyeing from afar. Best in small doses, the collection as a whole leaves you wondering if Moshfegh’s bleak vision is ...

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh review – a bleak collection of toxic short stories

Moshfegh’s dark vision risks tipping over into affectationThese cynical tales of toxic masculinity probably won’t appeal to anyone who found Ottessa Moshfegh’s Booker-shortlisted debut Eileen boring or repulsive, and might even give her admirers pause. With settings from China to Hollywood (where Moshfegh lives), they attack “swipe-left” misogyny while at the same time exploiting its gamey tang. “She wasn’t as fat as other women I’ve seen … but I hadn’t found her attractive for years,” says a widower of his wife. The theme of male entitlement is occasionally played for laughs - someone bankrupts himself buying used furniture in the belief it will help him seduce a vintage upcycler - but more often it’s just creepy: in Mr Wu, a violent fantasist plots how to snare the woman he’s eyeing from afar. Best in small doses, the collection as a whole leaves you wondering if Moshfegh’s bleak vision is ...