Emily Mackie - In Search of Solace (4 stars)

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

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Emily Mackie - In Search of Solace

(Sceptre)

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 Solace is even her real name, he finds himself in the small Scottish town she grew up in, where his life intertwines with four of the town's inhabitants.

Although the characters are a fascinating bundle of quirks, archetypes and meticulously original characterisation, Mackie's wonderfully unique narrative voice is the real highlight – the sly asides prevent Jacob from becoming unbearably solipsistic and lift the novel through the occasional necessary exposition.

Of the characters that get drawn into his orbit, most memorable are his self-delusional landlady, forever writing to a husband who never responds, and Max, a young genderqueer child whose layers of burgeoning identity Mackie peels back with expert precision. A nuanced look at identity, memory and modern Britain, In Search of Solace is a novel in the vein of Iain Banks at his best.

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