The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

Not surprisingly, the Netflix series put me onto The Witcher. I have never played the video game and wasn’t really aware of this massively famous writer, Andrzej Sapkowski, often referred to as the Polish Stephen King, but once I’d started with The Last Wish I found myself quickly rushing on to the Sword of Destiny and Blood of Elves with very little pause. It was too much fun to delve into this world filled with faery tale motifs – princesses in towers, wizards, magic wishes, elves and gnomes – and the customary fantasy reflections upon our world through the mirror of this invented magical world busy looking back on the old days with sentiment and looking on at encroaching war with a mixture of incredulity and fear.  Continue reading

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Little Dog is twenty-eight, a Vietnamese American who suddenly decides to write to his mother after rereading Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary. The novel that follows unravels his life in fits and starts, moments and memories awakening from each other into a work unafraid of shifting forms, exploring what it is to live as an immigrant in small town America. 

But Little Dog isn’t just an immigrant, isn’t just an outsider whose family came to America to escape the burnt remnants of their life in Vietnam, whose mother and grandmother never speak clear English and work in nail bars until their lungs give out with the fumes. Little Dog is also gay and the novel, the work he writes to his mother, is his way of coming out to her, even though he knows she can’t read.  Continue reading

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

The girl of the title is Adunni, a young Nigerian from a small village whose mother has just died and who must face new realities now that there is no one fighting for her to stay in school. Her mother was the one who believed in education, who believed that Adunni should become a girl with a louding voice. But with her mother gone, her alcoholic father needs money to support himself and Adunni’s younger brother. He wants to marry her off to an older man. An older, rich man who already has two wives. 

I could describe the entire plot of the book – because Adunni’s journey is both gripping and memorable – without spoiling the real heart of the novel, Adunni’s beautiful, clever, and thoughtful voice, but I won’t. It’s simpler to say that this is a book you fall in love with because it is almost impossible not to fall in love with Adunni.  Continue reading

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This isn’t an easy book to read. Such a Fun Age looks at two women caring for Briar, a little girl just on the cusp of her third birthday as the novel opens. Emira is a young black woman who babysits for Briar three times a week. Alix Chamberlain, a rich white woman with her own business, is Briar’s mum.

The novel starts with an incident. Alix’s husband is a local news anchor. He makes a throwaway remark that is unintentionally, but nonetheless, racist during his broadcastand in response their window is egged – the glass smashed on impact – late at night. They decide to call the police and don’t want their two-year-old to witness the police coming so they call their sitter and ask her to take Briar for a little while. Continue reading

Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie

Metamorphosis is the word I would use to summarise this collection, the second one from Irenosen Okojie. Everything is poised to become something else, to be shifted under the imaginative eye of an author who isn’t afraid to stretch our conception of reality and pull it into new shapes. Her language is full of unusual simile, revealing how the ordinary world is steeped in myth and fairytale.  Continue reading

Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body & Other Parties is one of those collections you start to read and wonder why you haven’t discovered before. How could I not have heard of Carmen Maria Machado? Why hadn’t I already read some of her stories?

If you haven’t this collection, do it now. Machado manages to give the oppressive politics of human relationships a sensual eroticism that is hard to look away from.  Continue reading

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other is one of those amazing books that opens many avenues of thought whilst being steadfastly generous. I hate things being described as warm-hearted because it suggests sentimental mush, but this book really is warm-hearted without saccharin sentiment; it is also beautifully crafted, the weave of characters and stories is pleasingly sharp and tight. Continue reading

Keeper by Jessica Moor

Keeper is a thriller with a message. Divided into sections that explore Then and Now, the novel looks at the life of Katie before and after her death. We move from the close third perspective of Katie’s Then, to the close third of DS Daniel Whitworth in the Now.

Katie worked in a women’s shelter, caring for women and children fleeing domestic violence or abuse. Her body washed up downstream from an old bridge, popular with suicides. Though it appears to be a straightforward case, Whitworth isn’t quite able to leave it alone. Katie has no records. Who was she? Continue reading

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

Salesman Joe wants to be a success. He’s sold encyclopaedias and he starts to sell vacuum cleaners, but all he manages to get are slices of pie rather than sales so he holes up in his trailer and spends the day fantasising about having sex with a woman who is only naked from the waist down. As she continues to appear unaffected from the front, going about her daily business, Joe pounds away from behind, her face a mask of propriety, the hidden parts of her body given over to his desire. Continue reading

Chemistry by Weike Wang

Funny and agonising, Chemistry’s narrator is a young post-grad chemistry student whose loving boyfriend has just proposed. She doesn’t know what to say, or how to respond and he allows her time to think about it. This state of limbo exists in her research too. She can’t find anything of significance, she can’t even be sure she has settled on the right topic or question for her PhD and yet her Chinese parents, when they speak on the phone, are desperately waiting for her to achieve, to become a doctor, to make something out of their ongoing sacrifices for her.  Continue reading