The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

This post is by Laura Wilson from Books | The Guardian

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The Last by Hanna Jameson; To Kill the Truth by Sam Bourne; The Lost Man by Jane Harper; Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti; The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides; and Fade to Grey by John Lincoln

A closed-world murder mystery wrapped inside a post-apocalyptic thriller, The Last by Hanna Jameson (Viking, £12.99) is set in a remote Swiss hotel. American historian Jon Keller, there for a conference, reads about the end of the world on the internet. Nuclear attacks take out major cities and destroy communications until the 20 people remaining at L’Hôtel Sixiėme believe they may be the only survivors. They face food shortages, possible radiation sickness and despair, plus the body of a girl, apparently killed before the catastrophe, which has been found in a water tank. Jon, who takes it upon himself to provide a record of events, is determined to find the killer. ...

Andrea Levy had to fight for a recognition she truly deserved | Gary Younge

This post is by Gary Younge from Books | The Guardian

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The author whose politics were rooted in anti-racism defined achievement on her own terms

One of the last times I visited Andrea Levy, who died on Thursday evening, she chuckled with some mischief while describing the coffin of banana leaf and bamboo she had just picked out for herself.

Andrea had been living with cancer for some time and for the past few years had accepted it would claim her life eventually. She talked about her impending death in a matter-of-fact way, right down to parking arrangements for the funeral. She had processed it and, with characteristic fortitude, decided she would rather live with what was coming than die from what she had. “We’re all going to die,” she told me. “It’s just that I’ve got a pretty good idea when I’m going to die and you don’t.”

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Andrea Levy, chronicler of the Windrush generation, dies aged 62

This post is by Richard Lea from Books | The Guardian

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Award-winning author of Small Island had cancer

The writer Andrea Levy, who explored the experience of Jamaican British people in a series of novels over 20 years, has died aged 62 after the recurrence of a cancer first diagnosed six years ago.

After starting to write as a hobby in her early 30s, Levy published three novels in the 1990s that brought her positive reviews and steady sales. But her fourth novel, Small Island, launched her into the literary big league, winning the 2004 Orange prize, the Whitbread book of the year and the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, selling more than 1m copies around the world and inspiring a 2009 BBC adaptation.

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The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño review – a hymn to Mexico City

This post is by Chloe Aridjis from Books | The Guardian

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It may not have been intended for publication, but the novel’s exuberant spirit offers an insight into Bolaño’s later work

Motorcycles are the vehicles of choice in The Spirit of Science Fiction; one in particular, a stolen brown Benelli called Aztec Princess, carves its erratic path through the pages of the novel, stalling and starting, testing its engine as it changes speed and direction. Midway through the book, the narrative itself begins to feel like a motorbike being revved, a loud growl that every now and then accelerates into glee and abandon before slipping back into a more tentative mode.

The Chilean author Roberto Bolaño is best known for his effervescent novel The Savage Detectives, first published in English in 2007, four years after his death, and the epic 2666. The latest genie to emerge from his seemingly inexhaustible archive, The Spirit of Science Fiction, was ...

Why I lied: after Dan Mallory, authors who faked their stories on what happened next

This post is by Leo Benedictus from Books | The Guardian

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Does the true identity of a writer really matter? Authors who fabricated literary personas share how their fantasies became nightmares

On the first day of this year’s Jaipur literary festival, the American novelist AJ Finn, real name Dan Mallory, was interviewed on stage. He talked about enjoying the success of The Woman in the Window, the thriller he wrote in one year, in one draft, which made him a multimillionaire. He talked about his diagnosis with bipolar II disorder, and the parallel between women’s struggle to be taken seriously and that experienced by people with mental health problems. He also mentioned some of the drawbacks of success. “I am dealing with a particularly unpleasant journalist in the US,” he told after the event. “This particular journalist, and there have been a few others, hears that I or someone else has a mental health issue, ...

Picnic in the Storm by Yukiko Motoya review – ingenious stories

This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian

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Meet flying commuters and a man made of straw in tales from a prize‑winning Japanese author

Strange things happen in Yukiko Motoya’s short stories: salarymen get swept skywards, Mary Poppins-like, by their umbrellas; sales assistants help aliens choose the perfect outfit; and women challenge their boyfriends to duels. Like soap bubbles, several of these stories catch your eye, but the instant they are gone you forget about them. It’s when Motoya is on the rocky terrain of collapsing relationships that her strangeness finds the friction it needs to stick.

In 2016 Motoya won Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa prize, for the novella that appears here as “An Exotic Marriage”. It is an ingenious, funny and frightening story in which San and her husband appear to be transforming into one another. “Whenever I’d gotten close to someone in the past,” San thinks, “I’d had the feeling that little by ...

Adèle by Leïla Slimani review – sex-addiction thriller

This post is by Lara Feigel from Books | The Guardian

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The follow-up to Lullaby centres on a modern-day Emma Bovary whose frustrated desires threaten to destroy her family

Are there secret desires that both endanger family life and make it survivable? Do we long to escape our children? To have sex with strangers at will? The Franco-Moroccan novelist Leïla Slimani’s Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016 and swiftly became a bestseller here last year. That tale of a murderous nanny, exposing the fetid emotional growths fouling the bourgeois home, was Slimani’s second novelistic investigation of forbidden desires. Now Adèle, the novel she wrote before that breakthrough success, has been translated into English by Sam Taylor.

When we first meet Adèle, she’s leaving the house before her husband and son wake up, looking for sex on the way to work. “Adèle has been good,” the opening proclaims, but now “she wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole.” For ...

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet review – a child in wartime

This post is by Melissa Harrison from Books | The Guardian

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Parental love is at the heart of a story grounded in the details of everyday life in an English village during the second world war

Domestic stories of women’s lives in wartime are common in genre publishing but rarer in literary fiction. From the off, Frances Liardet’s second novel, published 25 years after her first, distances itself from nostalgia and insists on its own terms. The writing is often dazzling – a child’s voice is “clear, piping, like a twig peeled of its bark” – and this, too, lifts what might have been a sentimental story into different territory altogether.

It is 1940 and a busload of bombed-out civilians from Southampton has arrived in the village of Upton, where Ellen Parr and her much older husband Selwyn, a miller with whom she has what’s described as a mariage blanc, are helping to find them beds for the night. The ...

Tell us: what books are the most shocking or disturbing?

This post is by Guardian readers and Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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On this week’s books podcast, we discuss the works that we struggled to finish – or even had to hide – because they were so shocking.

  • Share your literary terrors in the comments below

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us,” Franz Kafka once wrote. “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?”

That’s all very well, Kafka, but how about the books literally about wounding and stabbing? On this week’s books podcast, the Guardian’s resident thriller fan Alison Flood struggled to finish The Flower Girls, a new thriller by Alice Clark-Platts, the plot of which contains similarities to the James Bulger murder case. This sparked a discussion on the books desk about the books that have most disturbed us: commissioning editor Richard Lea had nightmares after ...

Reading group: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is our book for February

This post is by Sam Jordison from Books | The Guardian

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This month’s choice is a groundbreaking gay love story that impressed even prejudiced critics

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin has come out of the hat and will be our book about love for this month’s reading group.

Baldwin’s second novel was written in 1956 when the author lived in Paris. As he explained in a 1980 interview, this story of failing to find love and a young man doomed to death was partly inspired by real life:

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The Freedom Artist by Ben Okri review – wake-up call of a world without books

This post is by Stephanie Merritt from Books | The Guardian

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A society sleepwalks towards destruction in Okri’s deeply felt allegorical novel

The notion of the human condition as a prison or a dream state runs through western literature, from Plato through to Boethius, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderón de la Barca and all the way to Kafka, Camus, Borges and plenty more. Ben Okri’s 11th novel, The Freedom Artist, invokes all these preceding stories in a multilayered allegorical narrative that cuts to the heart of our current political and cultural malaise, while maintaining a mythical, mesmeric flavour that makes the reader feel these are stories they have always known.

In a 2018 interview with the Guardian, Okri described his life project as trying to do something new with “that great oceanic tide of African fables and stories that I grew up on – what I call the vast invisible literature”. This image – of an invisible literature that permeates ...

Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

This post is by Guardian readers and Sam Jordison from Books | The Guardian

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Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster has been keeping vermontlogger up at night:

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Project fear: what will Brexit gothic fiction look like?

This post is by Neil McRobert from Books | The Guardian

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The genre has always been adept at condensing social anxieties into memorable villains – so what will the horrific embodiment of our age be?

Gothic has always been a particularly reactive genre. It responds to trends and to what sells. But most of all it reacts to fear. The gothic has a flair for metaphors of anxiety, especially in its monsters. Frankenstein’s depiction of scientific hubris, Dracula’s immigrant vampire, the corrupted masculinity of both Wilde’s Dorian Gray and Stevenson’s Mr Hyde: each of these iconic grotesques was birthed as an embodiment of prevailing social anxiety.

The technique endures. In Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and The Stepford Wives (1972), Ira Levin used satanists and robots as metaphors for the attack on a woman’s ownership of her body and reproductive rights. The shock and awfulness of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1992) obscures a wry examination of individualism under assault by Reaganomics, with ...

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley – review

This post is by Johanna Thomas-Corr from Books | The Guardian

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Two long-term couples’ lives are changed by a sudden death in Hadley’s wonderful tale of ageing and adultery

There are few literary slurs as damning as the term “Hampstead novel”. The Observer’s Kate Kellaway once defined it as “a middle-class morality novel – probably involving adultery and shallow-masquerading-as-deep”. Authors such as Margaret Drabble, Fay Weldon and Ian McEwan are apparently guilty of writing Hampstead novels. Common wisdom says you should never write one these days. But in her quietly defiant, untrendy way that’s precisely what Tessa Hadley has done. Clearly, the woman doesn’t give a fig-scented candle.

Late in the Day tells the story of two upper-middle-class boho couples who sit around listening to Schubert and saying things like: “Christ, Jules… I don’t want to go dinner at the Fairlies’. We don’t even like the Fairlies.” The characters visit the Venice Biennale, discuss Tarkovsky and, naturally, have affairs ...

The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño review – no justice for a literary outlaw

This post is by Alex Preston from Books | The Guardian

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This rambling early novel by the late Chilean author fails to honour his brilliant legacy

When Roberto Bolaño died aged 50 in 2003, he’d only witnessed the first flickers of the extraordinary fame that was to come his way. His life until that point had been hand to mouth and itinerant, divided between Chile, where he was born, Mexico City and the Costa Brava, where he worked a variety of menial jobs in the rundown seaside resort of Blanes. By the time the Anglophone world got to read him, he was months from death – New Directions published the short, hallucinatory By Night in Chile in March 2003. He died in July, two places from the top of the waiting list for a liver transplant that might have saved him.

Bolaño’s reputation as the greatest Latin American author of his generation rests on two novels – The Savage Detectives, ...

Tessa Hadley: ‘Long marriages are interesting. You either hang on or you don’t’

This post is by Lisa Allardice from Books | The Guardian

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After secretly turning her hand to fiction in her forties, Hadley is enjoying widespread acclaim. She talks about happiness, motherhood and her four failed novels

Since finishing her latest novel, Late in the Day, Tessa Hadley has been “in a real panic”. She was worried that the story – about two long-married couples whose seemingly well ordered, beautiful lives become messy after one of the husbands dies – was too sad, “too glum”. “I thought it was going to be a disaster,” she says. But the novel, her seventh, has just received early reviews from the US, including one in the Washington Post that begins by hailing her as “one of the greatest stylists alive”. We meet the evening before she heads off on a two-week US book tour. Many writers would grumble about this as a necessary evil of modern publishing, but Hadley is looking forward to it, ...

Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li review – a mother’s grief

This post is by Lara Feigel from Books | The Guardian

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The unnamed narrator seeks meaning following her son’s suicide in this haunting and intimate meditation on life and love

In her 2017 memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, Yiyun Li describes her own journal as “a long argument with myself: a lucid voice questioning judiciously, and a more forceful voice speaking defiantly”. This is the form of Where Reasons End, a novel structured as a series of dialogues. Where her memoir began as an endeavour to understand and survive her own suicide attempt, the novel is the narrator’s endeavour to understand and survive the suicide of her 16-year-old son and is dedicated to Li’s own son, who killed himself in 2017.

The unnamed narrator, like Li herself, is a Chinese-American novelist, obsessively exact in her use of language. Her dead son Nikolai, a precocious poet with a talent for baking, is ...

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin review – the stuff of nightmares

This post is by Daniel Hahn from Books | The Guardian

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Primal themes are explored in this unsettling collection of short stories from the author of Fever Dream

Nobody who has read the Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s brilliant, profoundly unsettling novel Fever Dream, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize in 2017, will be surprised to learn how well suited her talents are to the short-story form. Her disciplined economy in creating atmosphere and effect is allied to a refusal to overexplain. That stubborn, unapologetic resistance to revelation is one of the things that makes Mouthful of Birds, her debut collection in English, such a success.

Her quiet withholding has a great power to unnerve. The stories may be structured with something resembling finality, yet they never completely come to rest. (But how did she die? Where have they gone? And what’s that unnamed thing?) Whole selections of tales with clever twists can suffer diminishing returns, ...

Unseen Robert A Heinlein novel reworks ‘awful’ The Number of the Beast

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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Publisher says book, reconstructed from the author’s papers, is much closer to his traditional work than the much derided 1980 space romp

An unpublished book by Robert A Heinlein, which provides a completely new ending to the author’s controversial novel The Number of the Beast, has been reconstructed from notes and typed manuscript pages left behind by the Hugo award-winning author.

Heinlein was a major figure in 20th-century science fiction, the author of works including Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. According to publisher Phoenix Pick, which worked with the Heinlein Prize Trust to reconstruct the text, Heinlein wrote it as an alternate version of 1980’s The Number of the Beast. One of his later works, that novel was described in a blurb as following the adventures of “four supremely sensual and unspeakably cerebral humans – two male, two female”, who “find ...

Dystopian fiction tells a pretty everyday story for many women

This post is by Hanna Jameson from Books | The Guardian

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Genital mutilation, ‘disaster rape’, invasive control of female bodies ... post-apocalyptic plots may feel far away to some, but they are all too real for many women

A couple of months ago, Twitter user @emrazz asked women what they would do in a hypothetical 24 hours if there were no men around. The responses were depressingly banal: sleeping with the windows open or finishing drinks in our own time, instead of feeling pressured to down them before heading to the bathroom, lest a man slip something in the glass. Going for walks at night was a common answer, bringing to mind Will Self’s piece ruminating on the joys of midnight walks, an “underrated pleasure” few women would seriously consider. These answers illustrate that, given a day without men, women would simply conduct themselves as full participants in the world, free from fear.

The Office for National Statistics said that one ...