Women Talking by Miriam Toews – review

This fictionalised story of a real-life rape in a religious colony is brave and thoughtful

A chilling tale of systematic subjugation in a rural religious colony, Miriam Toews’s new novel sounds like another addition to the current wave of feminist dystopias that have emerged post-Trump. But it is based on real events in a Mennonite community in Bolivia, in the mid-late 00s, where girls and women were repeatedly drugged and raped in their sleep, purportedly by demons but actually by local men, later jailed.

Toews’s fictional response begins after the attackers’ arrest. With the colony’s remaining men in town arranging bail, eight women – among them, Ona, pregnant with her rapist’s child, and teenager Neitje, whose mother has committed suicide – meet in a hayloft to decide what to do next. For the colony’s bishop, Peters, all that’s needed is for the perpetrators to come home so the victims ...

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker; Country by Michael Hughes – reviews

Pat Barker’s gripping contemporary take on The Iliad and Michael Hughes’s resetting of the tale during the Troubles offer different pleasures

In The Iliad, the Greek siege of Troy runs aground when Agamemnon, the general behind the attack, falls out with his most prized warrior, Achilles, over which of them best deserves the beautiful young Trojan queen Briseis as a spoil of war.

The question of her view on the matter – lost amid the testosterone – sets Pat Barker’s imagination ablaze in The Silence of the Girls, a stunning return to form after a series of so-so novels on her more usual beat of wartime Britain.

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How to Love a Jamaican and Heads of the Colored People – reviews

Impressive debuts by Alexia Arthurs and Nafissa Thompson-Spires bring grit and wit to issues around racial identity

The stories in the debut collection from Alexia Arthurs shuttle between Jamaica, her birthplace, and the US, where she lives. Among the varied scenarios you find depictions of island life, in which a betrayed wife turns up at the home of her husband’s lover brandishing a (blunt) machete; a student party in Brooklyn brought to a halt by a quarrel about Lena Dunham’s Girls (“I fucking hate that show... I really can’t imagine Hannah or any of her friends having POC friends... it glorifies gentrification”); and the life story of a pop star resembling Rihanna, portrayed as a depressive self-Googler whose mother, despite her misgivings (“I don’t see why yuh can’t sell music wid yuh clothes on”), tenderly looks after her after the sudden death of a co-star in a never-to-be-released promo.

Several ...

Perfidious Albion by Sam Byers – review

A housing estate’s residents are pitched against a tech firm in Sam Byers’s dizzying dystopian satire on politics and power

A new media satire that switches into a hi-tech dystopia centred on class politics, Sam Byers’s dizzying second novel comes over like an episode of Black Mirror as scripted by a “woke” Martin Amis.

The story involves an East Anglia housing estate about to be razed and restyled with help from a multinational tech firm suspiciously keen to take care of the infrastructure. Blocking the big bucks plan, though, are a handful of residents who won’t move, including Darkin, a frail widower whose status as a white working-class male makes him an attractive peg for hacks out to get the measure of Brexit Britain.

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – caustic and acute

The 2016 Booker nominee’s fable about a New Yorker avoiding life through drug-induced sleep hits its targets with pitiless black humour

When the US author Ottessa Moshfegh was shortlisted for the 2016 Booker prize with Eileen, a slow-burn psycho-noir narrated by an unloved prison clerk, she let slip that she wrote the book with help from a guide called The 90-Day Novel – a calculated lunge for mainstream success following McGlue, her lauded but commercially disappointing debut set among sailors in 19th-century Zanzibar. “I needed to write something that was going to be reminiscent of the crap that people are used to … How do you expect me to make a living?! I’m not going to be making cappuccinos. I’m fucking brilliant!”

Potentially a Ratner moment (she later said it ruined her chances of winning), the admission stoked the renegade aura of a writer who divides ...

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson – review

A reunited mother and daughter delve into their eerie past in Johnson’s complex, Sophoclean melodrama

Daisy Johnson’s debut, Fen, was a bewitching collection of stories set in a marshland town where humans turn into animals and cannibal temptresses lure lovers to their doom. The magic realist style let Johnson approach topics such as anorexia and domestic violence from surprising angles while giving the sense that she felt the business of generating otherworldly thrills was a worthy artistic goal in itself.

If Fen occasionally left you feeling underfed, it made you eager to read whatever Johnson wrote next. The novel she has now produced is a trickier beast, remixing the myth of father-slaying, mother-marrying Oedipus to portray him as a girl in modern-day Oxfordshire. The narrator, Gretel, is a lexicographer who spent her teens in foster care after she was abandoned by her mother, Sarah, who raised her hand-to-mouth on ...

Caroline’s Bikini by Kirsty Gunn – review

A banker falls for his landlady in this formally bold but exasperating tale of unfulfilled love

Some novelists seek to immerse the reader in the drama of flesh-and-blood characters to the extent that you forget you’re reading a made-up story. For others, that’s the last thing they want and so, instead, draw attention to their own artifice.

You get a sense of which kind the Scottish writer Kirsty Gunn might be from her new book’s flyleaf subtitle: An Arrangement of a Novel With an Introduction and Some Further Material. A metafictional romance full of footnotes and false starts, Caroline’s Bikini is narrated by Emily, a freelance copywriter, single and middle-aged, who makes a living from writing about pet food. With her childhood friend Evan, a banker, she’s trying to write – at his request – a novel about his infatuation with his landlady, Caroline, a glamorous, faintly desperate housewife in ...

A Weekend in New York by Benjamin Markovits – review

A US tennis pro’s vexed home life forms the basis of this hugely enjoyable novel

US writer Benjamin Markovits has long been interested in what it means to be moderately successful – what the narrator of 2010’s Playing Days, his autobiographical novel about his time as a basketball pro in the German second division, calls “honourable mediocrity”.

His new novel follows Paul Essinger, an American tennis player who reached a grand slam quarter-final at 21 but has never come close since, despite once beating Nadal when, Paul suspects, the Spaniard had “a flight to catch”.

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Small Country by Gaël Faye – review

The author’s memories of the Rwandan civil war are brought to life in this story narrated by an 11-year-old boy

The ethnic violence that devastated the central African states of Burundi and Rwanda in the 90s claimed the lives of more than a million people and created many more refugees. One of them was Gaël Faye, a French-Rwandan rapper whose alarming first novel – a prize-winner on its original publication in France – draws on his experience of being a schoolboy in Burundi as conflict broke out.

The novel starts with Gabriel, shown in a framing sequence as an unhappy office worker in Paris, toasting his 33rd birthday alone and thinking about why his online hookups always ask “So where you are from?” on account of his “caramel” skin.

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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 ...