The Wanderers by Tim Pears review – yearning and loss in the West Country

The second in a trilogy, this lyrical novel follows two separated young lovers through Devon and Somerset before the beginning of the first world war

The Horseman, the first book in Tim Pears’s West Country trilogy, observed the budding relationship between a landowner’s daughter, Lottie, and a labourer’s son, Leo. In this second instalment, set in 1912-1915, the pair are apart. Lottie, on her country estate, mourns the loss of her mother and Leo, homeless, wanders across the countryside in the company of Gypsies, tramps and hermits. Descriptions of the landscapes are tinged with a sense of yearning and loss; hills remind Leo of his “mother’s bread-making. The earth […] kneaded into shape” and Lottie finds a flower “like an angel, its hood curved like a pair of wings”. This is a novel of longing and loneliness, yet it is also a novel of nature and of man’s connection ...

The World Goes On review – a masterpiece of fear and futility

Prizewinning Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai’s new collection of stories is ‘deeply affecting’

When the celebrated Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai and his translator, George Szirtes, won the Man Booker international prize in 2015, the judges were impressed by his “extraordinary sentences of incredible length”. Here, Krasznahorkai’s famous sentences, often several pages long, again have huge impact, as a fearful God-like narrator tells a series of enigmatic stories marked by a sense of futility and pessimism. In one, a boy faced with a whale confined in a metal box is “initiated… into a state of melancholy”; in another, a man obsessed with waterfalls confronts the abyss of his mind while wandering drunk in Shanghai; and, in the title story, Krasznahorkai considers how the events of 9/11 destroyed the “meaning, power, spaciousness, and precision” of language. This collection – a masterpiece of invention, utterly different from everything else – is hugely unsettling and ...

Letters to the Lady Upstairs review – Proust and the sound of silence

This slim book of letters between Marcel Proust and his neighbour the dentist’s wife are a delight

Sensitively translated from the French by the esteemed Lydia Davis, the letters in this handsome book chronicle the relationships between three Parisian neighbours: Marcel Proust, who lived on the mezzanine floor of 102 Boulevard Haussmann; Dr Charles D Williams, whose dental practice was just above the often infirm, noise-phobic Proust; and the dentist’s wife, Mme Williams, “who had some control over the silence [Proust] so needed”. Through Proust’s passionate missives to Mme Williams – “[your letters] are delicious, delicious in heart, in spirit, in style, in ‘talent’” – an intimate friendship grows. The pair write through the war, about his work, about grief. The letters requesting silence as he recovers from asthma attacks become almost satirical as he describes singing, banging, hammering workmen like members of a chorus, making their racket upstairs while ...

Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli – review

These devastating essays document the terrifying experiences of unaccompanied Mexican children crossing the US border

In 2012, the Mexican writer Luiselli caused a sensation with her haunting debut novel, Faces in the Crowd, in which her unhappy protagonist craved “narrative order.” In this sobering essay, based on Luiselli’s experience as an interpreter for undocumented Mexican children crossing into the US, the phrase “narrative order” reappears, this time to describe what’s lacking in their chaotic stories. Trauma, exhaustion, youth and mistrust make it difficult to make sense of the children’s experiences as she tries to help them fill out the intake questionnaires and piece together a defence against deportation.

Most have lost friends and relatives; 80% of girls and women have been raped (US civilian vigilantes and private ranch owners are known to “go out to hunt” undocumented migrants). In this compelling, devastating book, Luiselli documents the huge injustices ...

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny – review

Katherine Heiny’s characters are faultlessly realised in this tale of a chalk-and-cheese couple caring for a son with Asperger’sGraham and his wife, Audra, live in “parallel universes”. Audra is optimistic, garrulous and popular. Graham is taciturn; his inner monologue, which Katherine Heiny’s third-person narrative dips in and out of, is sardonic and sarcastic. Yet the pair find a “thin spot in the fabric of their worlds” where they can work to create an ordinary life for their 10-year-old son Matthew, who has Asperger’s. They accompany him to origami club, engineer his social life and network with other parents. A current of understated humour runs throughout this book. Moments of tenderness, pain and disappointment consequently hit hard; we feel for Graham, who treasures moments with Matthew that are “reassuringly normal”. Heiny’s characters – charming, flawed, relatable, tragic, hilarious – are faultlessly constructed, lingering long in the memory like family ...

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny – review

Katherine Heiny’s characters are faultlessly realised in this tale of a chalk-and-cheese couple caring for a son with Asperger’sGraham and his wife, Audra, live in “parallel universes”. Audra is optimistic, garrulous and popular. Graham is taciturn; his inner monologue, which Katherine Heiny’s third-person narrative dips in and out of, is sardonic and sarcastic. Yet the pair find a “thin spot in the fabric of their worlds” where they can work to create an ordinary life for their 10-year-old son Matthew, who has Asperger’s. They accompany him to origami club, engineer his social life and network with other parents. A current of understated humour runs throughout this book. Moments of tenderness, pain and disappointment consequently hit hard; we feel for Graham, who treasures moments with Matthew that are “reassuringly normal”. Heiny’s characters – charming, flawed, relatable, tragic, hilarious – are faultlessly constructed, lingering long in the memory like family ...

Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists review – a passionate project

Donna Seaman resurrects forgotten artists and their work in inspiring fashion
In this passionate book, Seaman (daughter of artist Elayne Seaman) asks why seven American female artists – Louise Nevelson, Gertrude Abercrombie, Loïs Mailou Jones, Ree Morton, Joan Brown, Christina Ramberg, Lenore Tawney – respected and celebrated in their lifetimes, have been forgotten or nearly so. Seaman resurrects and reanimates. The women come to life here; grouchy, impish, shy, confident, introspective, scrounging and childish. Seaman also provides multiple interpretations of artworks, creating dialogues and instigating conversations that have for so long been missing and discusses how the gender of these accomplished artists led to society forgetting them. This is an inspiring and beautifully written book that will encourage the reader to research further and discover more. • Identity Unknown by Donna Seaman is published by Bloomsbury (£25). To order a copy for £21.25 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or ...

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray review – sprawling metaphysical tale

Wittgenstein, Klimt and Buffalo Bill all feature in an ambitious work that charts the history of a familyWaldemar Toula has woken up to find himself “excused from time”, held in a strange, timeless version of his aunt’s apartment. From there, he writes to an ominous Mrs Haven about the history of his family (all “failed physicians”) and their shared obsession with decoding a great-great-grandfather’s cryptic notes on a discovery he made, just before he died, about the nature of time. Toula’s narrative spans a century and traces the rise of antisemitism in Europe, the emergence of nazism and experiments by, and romances of, the Toula family. Along the way, we encounter, among others, Wittgenstein, Klimt and Buffalo Bill. It is an ambitious novel, sprawling and complex. Metaphysical concepts appear in digestible chunks as part of the narrative, which jumps back and forth in time. However, while there is ...

The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke review – a masterpiece

A Chinese village is transformed into a mega-metropolis in this surreal satire of both communism and capitalist excessThe 2016 Man Booker International finalist Yan Lianke turns his satirical eye on China’s rapid growth in this surreal fantasy in which an ancient rural village – Explosion – is transformed into a mega-metropolis on the back of political ambition and corruption. As the village expands, time literally seems to speed up – airports are built in days; monthly publications are published weekly – destroying the natural course of things. Flowers dutifully bloom, though in the wrong season (and, more weirdly, from spilled blood). As much a parody of communist rule in China as a devastating critique of capitalist excess, power, greed and self-destruction, Yan’s novel is nothing short of a masterpiece. • The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke is published by Chatto & Windus (£14.99). To order a copy for ...

2084 by Boualem Sansal review – a timely tribute to George Orwell

This powerful book from one of the Arab world’s most controversial novelists follows two friends in a totalitarian state as they uncover cracks in their world This tribute to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four by one of the Arab world’s most controversial novelists couldn’t be more timely. Real events add pathos to a protest novel translated from the French by Alison Anderson that explores the cowardliness of and deception exercised by totalitarian leaders. In near-future Abistan, where history has been eradicated and other cultures banned, Ati finds cracks in the world constructed by the prophet Abi and the rulers, the Just Brotherhood. He and a friend, Koa, investigate the legitimacy of the government and religion. They discover a history of mass deportation, and fragments of a lost time – the reader’s current time – its languages and cultures, and a “ghostly” concept, “democ”. Abistan borrows aspects from Islam, but recalls ...

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis review – growing up gay in a bigoted French village

This autobiographical novel is a candid account of a boy’s painful coming of age in a deprived rural communityEddy Bellegueule, “born effeminate”, grows up in a deprived French village where racism, misogyny and homophobia are rife. His parents berate him for his “fancy ways”, and at school he becomes the victim of bullying. The End of Eddy is autobiographical. Louis (only 21 when it was published) revisits through Eddy his impoverished upbringing, his awakening sexuality, and the way that resentment felt en masse by a community can affect the children who grow up within it. Though abusive voices interject from all sides, this is no misery memoir; it’s a candid, necessary call against conventional definitions of masculinity and the fear of difference. Continue reading...

The Last Wolf & Herman by László Krasznahorkai review – visceral stories

Two novellas by the Booker-winning Hungarian writer demonstrate his skill in ratcheting up the tensionKrasznahorkai, winner of the 2015 International Man Booker prize, writes The Last Wolf in one, long, sprawling sentence, in which a professor tells a bartender the story of his invitation to “mercilessly barren” Extremadura, Spain. There, he becomes fixated on the story of the area’s last wolf and, with his interpreter, tracks the final movements of the wolf and its hunters. Krasznahorkai’s writing is physically affecting: the prose never pauses and so we are compelled to hold our breath. Tension is profoundly magnified and the wolf’s death and the professor’s deep insecurities become all the more vivid and unsettling. Herman deals with similar themes; a “peerless virtuoso of trapping” is hired to rid a “feral forest” of its “noxious predators”, but – after a crisis of conscience – turns his traps on another type of ...

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay review – stories of resilience

The author of Bad Feminist beautifully conjures tales of women who show strength under duress Roxane Gay describes the lives of more than 20 women in this collection of short stories. Despite the title,​ the factor that tie​s​ most of them together ​is the presence in their lives of “difficult” and/or abusive men: a man abducts and rapes two young sisters; a hydrologist harasses a female structural engineer; an aged, alcoholic father is taken in by the two daughters he abused, and so on. Gay’s women are perpetually under threat. However, Gay never portrays them as weak. Each possesses a strength that enables them to escape, move on or distance themselves from difficult situations. The title of the collection carries the same sarcasm as when Gay describes her female subjects with well-worn stereotypes: “crazy”, “loose”, “frigid”, etc. The stories, phenomenally powerful and beautifully written, demonstrate the threats so many women ...

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay review – stories of resilience

The author of Bad Feminist beautifully conjures tales of women who show strength under duress Roxane Gay describes the lives of more than 20 women in this collection of short stories. Despite the title,​ the factor that tie​s​ most of them together ​is the presence in their lives of “difficult” and/or abusive men: a man abducts and rapes two young sisters; a hydrologist harasses a female structural engineer; an aged, alcoholic father is taken in by the two daughters he abused, and so on. Gay’s women are perpetually under threat. However, Gay never portrays them as weak. Each possesses a strength that enables them to escape, move on or distance themselves from difficult situations. The title of the collection carries the same sarcasm as when Gay describes her female subjects with well-worn stereotypes: “crazy”, “loose”, “frigid”, etc. The stories, phenomenally powerful and beautifully written, demonstrate the threats so many women ...

Byron’s Women by Alexander Larman review – reveals more about Byron

A study of the women in Byron’s life reveals the poet’s character as much as a biography of the man himselfByron’s Women explores the lives of nine women significant to poet and lothario Lord Byron. Included are his half-sister and lover, Augusta Leigh; his mistress, Caroline Lamb; his friend and writer of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley; his mother; his wife, Annabella Milbanke; and his daughter, Ada Lovelace, pioneer in computer science. Larman explores not only each woman’s relationship with Byron but her ambitions, achievements and passions. Larman also sheds light upon Byron’s violent nature. While his womanising has long been romanticised (he is seen as a libertine and fun-loving), passages about his relationships with his lover Claire Clairmont and Annabella show his volatility and abusive tendencies. This is no ordinary biography; through exploring the lives of the women in his life and the impressions he left upon them, we ...

Devotion by Louisa Young review – a formative tale of family battles

Two siblings grow up surrounded by war in an expertly woven story of loyaltyThis accomplished sequel to Young’s bestselling My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You and The Heroes’ Welcome has Tom and Kitty Locke growing up during the two decades of peace between the first and second world wars. The first war shaped their family: their mother, dead; their father, Peter, crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder. They are brought up by Riley, who is disfigured (Tom speaks of the “jawbone Riley had left in France”), and Nadine. Devotion is, in essence, a Bildungsroman – Tom and Kitty learn to reflect on their family’s experience of war and on the coming of another, they form political and personal identities, and they fall in love – Tom with Nenna, the daughter of Nadine’s brother, Aldo, a founding member of Italian fascism. Young expertly weaves questions of politics, race and loyalty ...

Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi review – a long goodbye to Russia

The memoir of a refugee from the Bolsheviks brings humour and warmth to some of the bleakest years of Russian historyThe writer Teffi, who lived from 1872 to 1952, was so popular and celebrated in Russia that companies produced Teffi caramel, Teffi perfume and Teffi candles. Her real name was Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya, and her wit provided Russian people with an antidote to the solemnity of the time; “laughter is now in style”, she wrote in 1910, amid mounting disillusionment and government restrictions. However, in 1918 she left Russia, officially on a reading tour to Ukraine, and never returned. Her real reasons for leaving are not fully known, but just before her departure, an actor reading Teffi’s stories was arrested and warned against earning “her bread through slander of the people’s government”. Despite being a fervent revolutionary until 1917, Teffi despised Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Memories – first published ...