Books, Fiction

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Opinion: The Man Booker Prize 2014 shortlist

19 Sep 2014

Award sends the literary world into a frenzy – but is this year’s shortlist worth the hype?

It’s a landmark year in Booker history – the first year that US authors can enter, resulting in either a truly international competition or the end of Western civilisation, depending on who you believe. Actually, the new ruling means all…

Interview: Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell on Twitter, mid-life crises and new novel The Bone Clocks

2 Sep 2014

'The temptation is to write versions of Cloud Atlas for the rest of my life – but not as good’

‘I like to think of this as my mid-life crisis novel,’ says David Mitchell. ‘I’m not going to run for office, I’m not going to buy a sports car, I don’t have the stamina for an inappropriate mistress, so I’ve written The Bone Clocks.’ On the phone from…

Adam Roberts - Bête

11 Sep 20144 stars

Dryly funny sci-fi novel about food that can talk back to the eater

Imagine if your food could talk back to you? That’s the extremely high-concept opener much-decorated sci-fi author and academic Adam Roberts plays with in his latest novel, opening on a bizarre but starkly amusing sequence in which a cow tries to reason…

Interview: Esther Freud, daughter of Lucien Freud, on her latest novel Mr Mac and Me

11 Sep 2014

The author's latest work takes inspiration from Charles Rennie Mackintosh

‘I don’t think I can have a cogent thought without it coming out through my fingers,’ jokes Esther Freud, wrapping said fingers around a cup of herbal tea. The author is in a tent at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, explaining her borderline…

Kate Saunders - Five Children On The Western Front

11 Sep 20142 stars

A disappointing sequel to E Nesbitt's wonderful, immersive and humorous Five Children and It series

Five Children and It is the first of a much loved trilogy from writer E Nesbit about five children and the Psammead (sand fairy) who grants wishes. It has since been adapted for TV and film and has inspired various takes on the story including books by…

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Kate Mosse - The Taxidermist’s Daughter

11 Sep 20144 stars

The sodden marshes and thunderous skies of the small village of Fishbourne near Chichester – and Kate Mosse’s home – provide a suitably gloomy setting for the Labyrinth author’s new Gothic tale of murder and mystery. Mosse pulls that landscape in…

Samantha Harvey - Dear Thief

11 Sep 20143 stars

Exquisite writing and a poignant story fail to be truly exciting in the long run

The art of letter writing is almost lost, but it's a tool used by Dear Thief's narrator as some form of catharsis. ‘In answer to a question you asked a long time ago,’ she begins, moving off on a journey through friendship, love and betrayal. The…

Julia Donaldson, James Robertson (trans.) - Room on the Broom in Scots

27 Aug 20144 stars

An already engaging and exciting story becomes even more theatrical when ‘performed’ in a new tongue

The winning combination of Julia Donaldson’s stories and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations has seen their picture books grace the shelves and bedside tables of children the world over. As such, it’s a formula you don’t want to mess with without due…

Matthew Thomas - We Are Not Ourselves

26 Aug 20143 stars

A patchy period narrative following the immigrant American Dream

Eileen Tumulty, raised by hard-drinking Irish parents in 1940s New York, craves a different life. She manages to pursue a nursing career and marries Ed, a brilliant scientist, seeing in him an opportunity for a better life. But Ed isn’t as enamoured…

Alison Moore - He Wants

7 Aug 20144 stars

A short meditation on memory composed of tightly wreathed prose and assured plotting

The best novels are the ones that leave you with a sense of yearning, and in He Wants, Alison Moore proves her mastery of the medium. Lewis Sullivan is a retired RE teacher whose restraint has kept him in the same village his entire life. Only now, with…

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Emily Mackie - In Search of Solace

7 Aug 20144 stars

A nuanced look at identity, memory and modern Britain in the vein of Iain Banks at his best

Following an existential crisis, Jacob Little goes in search of his ex-girlfriend Solace in Emily Mackie's accomplished second novel. Armed only with the painting of a female nude he believes looks exactly like his erstwhile lover, and not sure if…

Kerry Hudson - Thirst

11 Jul 20144 stars

A fizzing, breathless love story from a terrifically talented storyteller

It’s been two years since Kerry Hudson’s fantastic debut – the epically named Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – shook readers and critics from the cushy, Booker-induced, middle-class coma of the preceding years. And her…

Neil DA Stewart - The Glasgow Coma Scale

11 Jul 20143 stars

A confidently-written debut novel depicting a classic odd couple pairing without resorting to cliche

As she makes her way along Sauchiehall Street one afternoon, call centre manager Lynne is astonished to encounter Angus, her old art teacher (and long-time object of her desire), begging for change in a doorway. Despite his protestations, she insists on…

Linda Grant - Upstairs at the Party

27 Jun 20144 stars

Compelling tale of lifelong fascination and obsession

It’s the early 1970s and a glamorous androgynous couple known as Evie / Stevie appear on campus. To students experimenting with radical ideas, the pair symbolise all that lies in the future, until tragedy intervenes. For Adele, Evie becomes a lifelong…

Interview: Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor & Park, Fangirl and new novel Landline

24 Jun 2014

I tend to write about my anxieties – what I'm afraid will happen. I write a story working it out'

Thanks to hit novels Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, Nebraska-based Rainbow Rowell (her real name) is currently one of the best-loved authors in young adult literature. But, while she certainly knows how to capture the acute agony and ecstasy of teenage…

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Nikesh Shukla: Meatspace

20 Jun 20142 stars

An entertaining critique of digital culture that fails to follow through its central plotline

Meatspace is very much concerned with the internet, and the ways it affects our social lives. Shukla explores this through the character of Kitab, a semi-successful writer who soon finds his online life in tatters after his namesake tracks him down…

Carys Bray - A Song For Issy Bradley

20 Jun 20144 stars

Bay's debut is an intimate examination of grief and the Mormon faith, with a surprisingly funny edge

Deftly juggling five characters' perspectives, Carys Bray's first novel is an intimate portrait of grief and faith – but it's also sharply funny.

Maggie Shipstead - Astonish Me

20 May 20143 stars

An impressive and compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet

Maggie Shipstead’s acclaimed debut novel, Seating Arrangements, was a personal highlight of 2013. A taut, deftly plotted satire of wealth and family, it skewered New England society while also creating enough depth and humour to keep the narrative…

Interview: Doug Johnstone, author of The Dead Beat

16 May 2014

Johnstone's sixth novel covers obituaries, the death of print journalism and mental health issues

'I always feel that if you're going to write a novel, you've got to be obsessed with what you're writing about,' says Doug Johnstone. 'This is a handful of obsessions that came together.' The Dead Beat's obsessions include: obituaries ('they're like…

Emma Healey - Elizabeth is Missing

16 May 20144 stars

A warm, funny and sometimes truly chilling tale of dementia from a promising storyteller

82-year-old Maud has dementia – and it's progressing fast. So when her friend Elizabeth goes missing, she does everything she can to remember that she has to find her. But in searching for Elizabeth, she uncovers buried memories from her girlhood…

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Joseph O'Connor - The Thrill of it All

16 May 20144 stars

Tales of teenage dreams, friendship and a real love of music

It's intriguing to read an artist's well-documented life from their point of view, especially one whose career ended in controversy. Joseph O'Connor has created his own reality in Robert Goulding, the underdog of a fictional rock band called the…

Simon Sylvester - The Visitors

16 May 20144 stars

The Twitter storyteller's debut novel is is as dark, sad and enchanting as any fireside folk tale

Flo sits on the headland of her island home, watching her new neighbours boat their belongings over the water to a rundown islet shack. She can’t quite put her finger on it but there is something strange about the pair of them; of course, what with all…

Flash Fiction: Norman by Ruth Thomas

29 Apr 2014

The newest instalment in our series of ultra-short stories

Celeste spent Monday morning at the Job Centre: she’d lost her job as a barista and now there she was, sitting opposite someone called SHEILA MORRISON, filling in forms. There were a lot of sections to complete, and she wasn’t even sure she’d qualify…

Danny Wallace – Who is Tom Ditto?

29 Apr 20144 stars

The writer and broadcaster’s second novel fits with his previous form in social experimentation

Writer, broadcaster and comedy accomplice Danny Wallace has undertaken various social experiments in the past: he’s started his own cult, attempted to found a country from his flat and tried saying ‘yes’ to everything for a year. His second work of…

Ned Beauman - Glow

29 Apr 20144 stars

An addictive modern conspiracy thriller about a new mind-altering substance

Ned Beauman's third novel begins with a rave in a launderette where Raf is introduced to a new drug called Glow. Everyone wants Glow, including Cherish, a beautiful Burmese woman who Raf all too briefly meets. The next day Raf discovers that his best…