July 26, 2013 7:16 pm

In brief

Call It Dog, by Marli Roode, Atlantic, RRP£12.99, 352 pages

 

After 10 years in the UK, journalist Jo Hartslief returns to South Africa to report on rioting in Johannesburg.

She had hoped to avoid her Afrikaner father, Nico – their relationship was always difficult – but he tracks her down. Nico reveals that he is on the run from the police: he is accused of murdering a black man in the 1980s, and wants Jo to help him clear his name. She reluctantly agrees but, as they criss-cross the country in search of witnesses to support his case, she begins to doubt his innocence.

Marli Roode’s debut tackles some big themes – including the nature of white guilt and the causes of urban decay in South Africa – but lacks the subtlety of recent novels that have covered similar ground (Patrick Flanery’s wonderful Absolution comes to mind).

Nevertheless, the assuredness with which Roode handles the nuances of the father-daughter dynamic here – particularly the way Jo’s loyalty to Nico persists in spite of her disgust at his actions – hints at greater things to come.

Review by David Evans

. . .

The Passenger, by Maryam Sachs, translated by Gaël Schmidt-Cléach, Quartet, RRP£12, 112 pages

 

Maryam Sachs’s slim novel is set over the course of a single taxi journey from Charles de Gaulle airport to the centre of Paris. As the German passenger listens to her driver – one Mr Kiss – tell stories about his adventurous background, she reflects on her own past, and a romance in East Berlin that ended badly.

This sort of narrative is a difficult trick to pull off: the risk is that in restricting the action to the interior of a single vehicle the book begins to feel slightly airless (Don DeLillo solved this problem in Cosmopolis by having the protagonist’s limousine host a parade of oddball guests). There are moments here when the reader longs for a break from Mr Kiss and his annoying titbits of ethereal wisdom.

But the passenger herself is well drawn, and the final stages of the novel – in which memories that she has “tried to erase so desperately” return to her in a Proustian rush – are movingly and convincingly done.

Review by David Evans

. . .

The Lowest Heaven, edited by Anne C Perry and Jared Shurin, Jurassic London, RRP£9.99, 352 pages

 

The Lowest Heaven is being published to coincide with the Visions of the Universe exhibition at London’s Royal Observatory Greenwich. The book is a science-fictional tour of our solar system, with a different author tackling each heavenly body, beginning with the sun and ending with the comets and asteroids at the periphery.

There are literal excursions to other worlds, such as Simon Morden’s “WWBD”, a Mars-set homage to Ray Bradbury, and “A Map Of Mercury”, Alastair Reynolds’ ingenious hard-SF tale about cyborg artists. Then there are stories exploring the influence of certain planets: Esther Saxey’s “Uranus” is a charming fantasy centring on the late-Victorian homosexual demimonde, while Kaaron Warren’s “Air, Water and the Grove” delves into every conceivable association of the word Saturn.

A highlight is Adam Roberts’s contribution, with its deft, expert pastiche of early-18th-century prose but every contribution to this excellent anthology is of stellar quality.

Review by James Lovegrove

. . .

The Adjacent, by Christopher Priest, Gollancz, RRP£12.99, 420 pages

 

The Adjacent is less a novel, more a collection of interleaving novellas. The main plot strand, set in the near future, involves a photographer whose wife is killed by insurgents in Anatolia using some kind of quantum bomb. Returning to his homeland, the storm-racked Islamic Republic of Great Britain, he learns that a similar, larger-scale attack has devastated London.

Other strands focus on an illusionist attempting to disguise reconnaissance planes during the first world war and a female Polish pilot during the second. Timelines slip and slide. Character names recur, slightly altered. Lovers re-meet, carrying vague memories of other lives. There’s even a visit to the Dream Archipelago, a fantasy world and neutral zone where war is forbidden.

Priest has already shown a fascination with doppelgängers and stage conjuring in books such as The Prestige and The Separation. Here, in his usual measured grey style, the author re-explores those themes to impressive effect.

Review by James Lovegrove

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