The Contortionist’s Handbook by Craig Clevenger

How do you hide from a difficult past when you have a left hand with an extra ring finger and bright red hair? Even if you’re exceedingly clever with a phenomenal talent for drawing? If you’re John Dolan Vincent of The Contortionist’s Handbook, you become a forger.

Initially running from a rough childhood – an abusive father in and out of jail; a school record that mistakes his savant abilities for special needs – the lure of reinvention becomes a habit, especially after the doctors can’t diagnose his headaches and conclude they are psychologically induced. In order to avoid the mental hospital – each headache episode ends in overdose as he takes more and more drugs to control the pain – every headache requires a new identity. Continue reading

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage starts with a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, enjoying a romantic night in a hotel. A romantic night that begins a new and troubling era in their lives when Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit.

The novel has three parts and is mostly told from three main first person perspectives, those of Celestial, Roy and Andre, Celestial’s childhood friend who introduced the couple. Interspersed between these first person narratives are letters sent between the characters, for the most part between Celestial and Roy but this structure also allows for letters to and from other characters, such as parents, lawyers etc. Continue reading

Skin by Liam Brown

A deadly virus, spread through human contact, has forced the remaining wealthy few into isolated, decontaminated chambers; phones and computers their only means of communication with others, even their children and partners. Going outside is forbidden without prior authorisation and requires the wearing of a protective suit and mask.

This is the world of Skin, a novel narrated by mother-of-two, marketing executive, Carol. She tells her story in two threads: one which covers the outbreak and survival of the virus; and one in which she examines life in the new isolated world where she can no longer hug her children or feel the sun on her face. A chance sighting of a figure without a protective suit, spotted one day on her neighbourhood watch route, forces Carol to reevaluate the realities of the post-virus world. Skin is a great fun read for the sci-fi enthusiast as you get this double narrative arc of initial survival and then conspiracy. Continue reading

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Ordinary People follows the lives of two couples as they struggle with the difficulties of ordinary, family life.

Melissa and Michael have a new baby and a new house in London. They seem like the perfect couple, but Melissa’s shift to freelance work begins to make her feel trapped in her own home, jealous of the greater freedom her partner, Michael, enjoys.

Damian and Stephanie live in the suburbs, near Stephanie’s parents, with their three children and Damian commutes to London for work. This separation of work and home has built a wedge between Damian and Stephanie that grows when Damian’s father dies, forcing him to reconsider what he is doing with his life.

Damian and Michael are friends from university and this brings the families together, allowing for their experiences of family life to be shared, contrasted and contested. Continue reading

White by Marie Darrieussecq

Edmeé and Pete have never met. They come from separate parts of the globe, but White follows their individual journeys to Antarctica and each other.

Why do you sign up for a job in such freezing conditions if you are not a scientist or adventurer seeking some new discovery? What is it that Edmeé and Pete want from the ice and snow, from the endless whiteness that splits champagne bottles in half and requires constant vigilance against for survival? Continue reading

Poster Boy by N. J. Crosskey

Set in a fascist Britain, in the not too distant future, two women, Rosa and Teresa, fight to stay alive with some sense of integrity as the nation takes further steps towards totalitarian leadership where all citizens are monitored and given access to education, food and health care on a scale dependant upon their heritage, opinion and behaviour. Continue reading

Supper Club by Lara Williams

I devoured this book (pun intended). The idea of women wanting to gorge themselves and take up more space physically as a precursor to taking it up mentally and socially, is delightfully and annoyingly radical. That pressure for the feminine to be neat, contained, and, if possible, small, quiet and submissive is deliciously subverted by a rowdy supper club where women gorge themselves silly on food, drink and drugs, taking up space with their loud voices, dancing and messy eating. The physical expansion of flesh that ensues is less embarrassing because all the individuals in the group put on weight collectively and celebrate the extra flesh rather than hiding it behind modest outfits and downcast eyes. Continue reading

Asylum by Marcus Low

Set only a couple of years in the future, Asylum is a presentation of the journals of Barry Wilbert James, an inpatient at the Pearson quarantine facility for pulmonary nodulosis in the Great Karoo of the Republic of South Africa. These personal journals, begun two years after his incarceration at the Pearson are interspersed by a preface, notes and marginalia made by Barry and various academics who studied the archives at the Museum of the Plague in South Africa, a museum dedicated to the most serious outbreak of an infectious disease since the peak of the HIV epidemic. Continue reading

Devilspel by Grigory Kanovich, trans by Yisrael Elliot Cohen

Devilspel tells the story of the inhabitants of a small rural town, Mishkine, in Lithuania in the early 1940s. Though not all of the characters that we follow are Jewish, the novel explores the shifts in attitude towards the local tailors, doctors, farmhands and gravediggers, as the incoming wave of anti semitism wipes the town’s Jewish population from the map.

This is part of the wider story of Lithuania’s Jewish population, a very personal story for Grigory Kanovich who is one of only 5% of 200,000 Lithuania Jews who survived the war. Continue reading

Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Tariq is a teenager from Morocco who longs to travel to Paris. He knows his mother was born there, that one of her parents was French. He doesn’t know what happened to her and partly from a desire to learn more, and partly simply from the desire to escape the routine of his school life, he takes his passport and travels into France on the back of a lorry.

Hannah is American and just over thirty. She’s been in Paris before. It was there she met the man who broke her heart all those years ago. Returning now is a chance not only to generate new research for a history book being written by her professor back in the states about women’s lives during the occupation of Paris by the Germans, but also to confront that earlier version of herself, the more carefree Hannah who was open to new experiences and people, whose suffering forced the older Hannah to disconnect from the present and pursue a love of the people of the past. Continue reading