The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel review – devilishly good

Heat, dust and evil insinuations in this memorably gothic novel of startlingly rich imagination

This memorably gothic novel is Tiffany McDaniel’s first published work (but, by her own account, the eighth or ninth she has completed). As the winner of last year’s Guardian Not the Booker prize, it divided opinions sharply, some readers finding its relentlessly intense language and biblical plot too much to swallow. But the story of how Autopsy Bliss, a lawyer in the tiny Ohio town of Breathed, invited the devil to visit is a wildly riffing trumpet voluntary that sustains its thrilling high notes from start to finish. The narrator is Autopsy’s son, Fielding Bliss, looking back from wretched old age to the neon-coloured summer of 1984 when Sal, a dishevelled 13-year-old boy, answered his father’s invitation. Did Sal bring the crushing heat with him? Did he cause the seemingly endless sequence of calamities ...

I’m Not With the Band by Sylvia Patterson review – musical memoir

A career in music journalism is described with verve mixed with nostalgiaSylvia Patterson used to plaster her bedroom walls with pages from NME and Sounds, then at the zenith of taking themselves deadly seriously, and absorbed the ethos of music as revolution (as well as fun and frenzy). What a blast, then, to find herself, via a desperate stint at hoary Annabel magazine, working as a staffer on Smash Hits, whose relentlessly jokey glossary virtually wrote Eighties pop culture. Patterson’s nostalgia is palpable and she recreates that over-capitalised, “birrova laff” style with joy as she recalls encounters with the biggest music acts in the world as they exposed themselves to the magazine’s particular brand of ridicule in pursuit of publicity. Throughout an illustrious career in music journalism, Patterson has never lost her belief that pop and rock are, or should be, “foamingly important”; she describes the commodification of music ...

I’m Not With the Band by Sylvia Patterson review – musical memoir

A career in music journalism is described with verve mixed with nostalgiaSylvia Patterson used to plaster her bedroom walls with pages from NME and Sounds, then at the zenith of taking themselves deadly seriously, and absorbed the ethos of music as revolution (as well as fun and frenzy). What a blast, then, to find herself, via a desperate stint at hoary Annabel magazine, working as a staffer on Smash Hits, whose relentlessly jokey glossary virtually wrote Eighties pop culture. Patterson’s nostalgia is palpable and she recreates that over-capitalised, “birrova laff” style with joy as she recalls encounters with the biggest music acts in the world as they exposed themselves to the magazine’s particular brand of ridicule in pursuit of publicity. Throughout an illustrious career in music journalism, Patterson has never lost her belief that pop and rock are, or should be, “foamingly important”; she describes the commodification of music ...

The Star Witness by Andy Hamilton review – soap star seeks redemption

The knives are out for ‘Dirty Len’ in the comedian’s first novel, and the reader is judge and juryIn comedian Andy Hamilton’s first novel, Kevin Carver plays Lenny in a fictional soap opera. His character is a bad’un – Dirty Len, if you like – and Kevin is irritated by fans of the show who confuse him with his role. The tabloids don’t help, and when Kevin’s real-life relationship with his onscreen girlfriend goes sour, the knives are out. Hamilton steers his narrative along a narrow and treacherous path: the unlikeable protagonist who must redeem himself. While Kevin is tried in court for his misdemeanours, the reader is the true judge and jury whose sympathy Hamilton begs for, as Kevin makes one bad decision after another. But it’s not so much the laws he has broken as his self-absorption and self-pity that risk losing the reader. Ploughing the depths, ...

The Tryst by Monique Roffey review – perfectly judged erotic fiction

Sex and mythology collide in a novel with insights into contemporary coupledomAlthough women are increasingly writing and reading sexually explicit fiction, there are still relatively few erotic masterpieces written by women. It is notable that two of the most accomplished female writers of literary erotica, Story of O author Anne Desclos and Anaïs Nin, wrote their erotica for men – Desclos for her lover, Jean Paulhan, and Nin for a collector who paid a dollar a page. In her novel The Tryst, Monique Roffey is writing for herself, the book forming part of a wider exploration of sex and sexuality which she also covered in a memoir, With the Kisses of His Mouth. Erotic literature is vulnerable to a number of stylistic weaknesses. It is, by its very nature, repetitive, while descriptions of sexual ecstasy can become unintentionally comic if they try too hard to convince the reader of the ...

Sealskin by Su Bristow review – a story of love and acceptance spun from a Scots legend

The Scottish myth of the selkie – a seal that can transform into human form – inspires a tale of life on the margins, forgiveness and redemption Bristow spins her novel out of the legend of the selkies, seals who shed their skins and come ashore in human form. The Scottish fishing village where the drama unfolds exists in an unspecified past where the small community sees to its own needs and the events that mark the passing of time – courtships, marriages, births and deaths – are known about and shared by all. Except that even such a tightknit group as this has its outcasts: Donald’s father died when he was a boy and his mother, a medicine woman and midwife, did not remarry but kept herself and her boy apart from the village. Donald has been bullied and isolated all his life, and now the consequences of his ...

The Things I Would Tell You review – an anthology of British Muslim Women

Kamila Shamsie and Ahdaf Soueif are among the contributors to this lively and varied collection put together by Sabrina MahfouzSabrina Mahfouz has put together a lively, varied anthology. As she explains, the writers she has chosen all “identify as having both a British and a Muslim background, regardless of their birthplace, citizenship status or religiosity”. Their roots are in a dozen countries, yet the paths they have followed all cross and make a creative mark in Britain. There is great variety of form here too: as well as short stories, there are playscripts, poems and essays. Strong, impassioned voices speak out from the pages: Ahdaf Soueif laments the undermining of the “mezzaterra” where Arab and western culture recognised their common ground; Aisha Mirza rails against “white liberals” who “put our heads on sticks and call it multiculturalism”. Humour leavens the mix in Kamila Shamsie’s story of a makeup artist’s insights ...