December 3, 2010 10:04 pm

Fiction round-up

Fiction

The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis, Jonathan Cape RRP£18.99

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IN Fiction

When you look back at your life, you will think only of who you had sex with – according to Martin Amis, at least, whose amusing novel brings us the sexual revolution as he saw it.

Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey, Faber RRP£18.99

Carey’s brilliant evocation of the life of Alexis de Tocqueville explores themes of democracy, art, taste and class – all in the rich language of one of the world’s finest writers.

The Spider Truces, by Tom Connolly, Myriad Editions RRP£7.99

When you try to protect someone from grief, do you prevent them feeling anything at all? Beautiful debut about a son trying to break free from his father.

Room, by Emma Donoghue, Picador RRP£12.99

Jack, aged five, believes the room he lives in constitutes the whole world – until his mother tells him they are captive there. A riveting novel about what we do for love.

The Betrayal, by Helen Dunmore, Fig Tree RRP£18.99

This sequel to The Siege follows a Russian doctor forced to treat a prominent cadre’s son. We know it won’t turn out well – but the unravelling of lives is gripping and beautifully plotted.

The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris, Viking RRP£12.99

A man walks out on his wife – not because he wants to but because he has an irresistible compulsion to walk. A strangely brilliant novel about alienation and restlessness.

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, Fourth Estate RRP£20

The strained relationships and individual troubles of a single family stand for bigger social and political questions in this long-awaited follow-up to Franzen’s 2001 novel The Corrections.

In a Strange Room, by Damon Galgut, Atlantic RRP£15.99

This semi-autobiographical novel recounts three journeys and is a sparse imagining of what it means to travel and exist. Bleak, stark and brilliant.

Union Atlantic, by Adam Haslett, Tuskar Rock RRP£12.99

The best novel so far about the financial crash. This wide-ranging debut also encompasses gay sex and class war in near-contemporary America.

The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson, Bloomsbury RRP£18.99

Winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, Jacobson’s deceptively simple novel explores death, melancholy, friendship and old age – but also makes you laugh.

In Office Hours, by Lucy Kellaway, Fig Tree RRP£12.99

This year’s funniest office romance comes from one of the FT’s favourite columnists.

The Long Song, by Andrea Levy, Headline RRP£18.99

A rich and intelligent imagining of the end of slavery in Jamaica. Powerful and energetic storytelling.

C, by Tom McCarthy, Jonathan Cape RRP£16.99

The story of Serge, born at the dawn of modern communication systems, draws beautiful images of a world in which everything is linked in some form.

Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel, Canongate RRP£15.99

Imaginative and innovative novel about the Holocaust, including taxidermists, talking donkeys and the best ever description of a pear. It’s weird, wonderful and impressively short.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, by David Mitchell, Sceptre RRP£18.99

Everything you ever wanted to know about 18th-century Japan and its encounters with the west, brought to you by the author of Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green.

February, by Lisa Moore, Chatto & Windus RRP£12.99

How do we live with loss? In a masterful evocation of grief, Moore presents a single family felled by a real-life tragedy.

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray, Hamish Hamilton RRP£13.99

This intricately woven novel follows a group of boys at an Irish boarding school, where all is not as rosy as it seems. Rich and funny, with a dark underbelly.

The Interrogative Mood, by Padgett Powell, Profile RRP£9.99

Who would have thought a novel written entirely in question form could be so touching, addictive and thought-provoking?

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman, Quercus RRP£16.99

A funny and engrossing debut presents a group of journalists at a doomed newspaper in Rome.

The Still Point, by Amy Sackville, Portobello RRP£12.99

Julia is writing the story of an ancestral Arctic explorer but her research reveals as much about herself as it does about him. A quiet but significant debut about identity and family.

So Much For That, by Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins RRP£15

A man is about to leave his wife when she is diagnosed with cancer. A moving and angry novel about how life and medical bills trump free will.

In-Flight Entertainment, by Helen Simpson, Jonathan Cape RRP£14.99

This short story collection is funny, perfectly observed and highly addictive.

Trespass, by Rose Tremain, Chatto & Windus RRP£17.99

A literary thriller set in rural France, where a bumbling British antiques dealer tries to buy a house – and brings to the surface old enmities within a local family.

The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas, Tuskar Rock RRP£12.99

A man slaps his cousin’s son at a family barbecue – and triggers this soap opera of a novel. Misogynistic, voyeuristic and impressively engrossing.

The Stars in the Bright Sky, by Alan Warner, Jonathan Cape RRP£12.99

In a virtuoso act of literary ventriloquism, Warner follows a group of licentious young women who spend a week at an airport. Booze, Brazilians and cigarette butts were never so well met in literature.

Nourishment, by Gerard Woodward, Picador RRP£14.99

A prisoner-of-war asks his wife to write saucy letters to sustain him in captivity and triggers a surprising series of events. An absurd plot that somehow makes for a hilarious novel.

Rosie Blau

FT leader writer and a judge of this year’s Man Booker Prize

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Fiction in translation

Visitation, by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky, Portobello Books RRP£10.99

A minimalist masterpiece in which a story about a lakeside house in Brandenburg, along with its successive occupants, becomes the conduit for a journey through Germany’s 20th-century history.

To the End of the Land, by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen, Jonathan Cape RRP£18.99

To what lengths will a mother go to make sure that her son, a soldier in the Israeli army, stays out of harm’s way? Ora, the protagonist of Grossman’s heart-rending novel, embarks on a journey to keep bad news at bay.

Our GG in Havana, by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, translated by John King, Faber RRP£9.99

The author of Dirty Havana Trilogy has fun exploring the cauldron of depravity and double-dealing in pre-revolutionary Cuba that inspired Graham Greene’s classic, Our Man in Havana.

Orphans of Eldorado, by Milton Hatoum, translated by John Gledson, Canongate RRP£9.99

Set in the Amazonian city of Manaus, this delicately crafted and dreamlike novel tells of Arminto, son of a shipping magnate, and of his feverish obsession with the elusive Dinaura.

We, the Drowned, by Carsten Jensen, translated by Charlotte Barslund, Harvill Secker RRP£17.99

Following four generations of seafarers from the Danish island of Marstal, Jensen’s rollicking debut takes readers from Samoa to the North Atlantic, and from the mid-19th century to the second world war.

The Changeling, by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm, Atlantic RRP£19.99

In an autobiographical novel packed with ruminations about the purpose of art and the nature of memory, Japan’s Nobel laureate tells of writer Kogito Choko and his strained but fruitful relationship with his filmmaker brother-in-law.

The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely, Faber RRP£18.99

Pamuk shines in a novel rich in its evocation of 1970s and 1980s Istanbul. Kemal, a westernised playboy, pines after a lost love and enshrines it in a unique collection of mementoes.

I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson, translated by Charlotte Barslund, Harvill Secker RRP£12.99

Petterson’s novel follows Arvind, whose failed marriage and whose mother’s imminent death prompt him to remember a life haunted by dissatisfaction. Desolate and achingly beautiful, like some of the Nordic landscapes it depicts.

An Unfinished Business, by Boualem Sansal, translated by Frank Wynne, Bloomsbury RRP£16.99

Sansal’s powerful English-language debut uses the tale of Algerian-born immigrant brothers Rachel and Malrich to examine Islamic extremism and to ask whether new generations should be held responsible for the sins of their fathers.

The Secret History of Costaguana, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, translated by Anne McLean, Bloomsbury RRP£16.99

A delicious subversion of a literary classic, in which Joseph Conrad steals the plot for his book Nostromo from an expatriate Colombian in London. “This is not what I told you,” the aggrieved man complains. “This,” replies the crafty Conrad, “is a novel.”

Ángel Gurría-Quintana

FT fiction reviewer

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Science Fiction

Version 43, by Philip Palmer, Orbit RRP£8.99

Palmer throws everything he can think of into his third novel, from cowboys to kinky sex, and somehow it works. An unkillable cyborg strives to bring the law to a lawless frontier planet. Brilliantly bonkers.

The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi, Gollancz RRP£18.99

This debut effort from Finnish-born Rajaniemi, a noirish thriller set on Mars, whisks by in a blur of recondite language and cutting-edge concepts. It may not all make sense but from start to finish it’s an exhilarating ride.

Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer, Corvus RRP£12.99

VanderMeer’s third Ambergris novel is less tricksy and more accessible than its predecessors. It’s a smart allegorical private-eye yarn set in an ominous, fusty world dominated by sentient fungi.

James Lovegrove

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Crime

The Blood Harvest, by SJ Bolton, Bantam RRP£11.99

Part Wicker Man, part League of Gentlemen, Bolton’s third chiller follows the Fletcher family into their new home on the Lancashire Moors, where children vanish and villagers turn weird as Halloween approaches. Moody and creepy, with a killer twist.

The Reversal, by Michael Connelly, Orion RRP£18.99

Connelly continues to twist the legal tale as a defence attorney turns prosecutor to nail a child-killer released by contradictory DNA evidence – but is he being set up? Expect surprises and plenty of dark moments in this punchy legal drama from an ever-reliable writer.

The Mammoth Book of Best British Mysteries 7, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Running Press RRP£7.99

This superior annual round-up of killer crime features Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and a stellar cast of detectives, victims, snipers, stalkers and murderers, spread across 38 stories chosen for their maximum impact and ingenuity.

Rupture, by Simon Lelic, Picador RRP£7.99

Hard to define and unusually structured, with no less than 15 different points of view expressed between the narrative sections, Lelic’s ambitious debut novel tries to understand why a mild-mannered teacher would open fire in a school. His answers brilliantly expose the banal cruelties of modern life.

Agents of Treachery, edited by Otto Penzler, Corvus RRP£18.99

If you want great spy stories it makes sense to hire a former spook-turned-author and add 12 more world-class headliners. So here legendary editor Penzler gets Stella Rimington, Lee Child and others to conduct us into the shadow-world of spycraft.

From Blood, by Edward Wright, Orion RRP£12.99

The long shadow of political activism is cast across the life of wild child Shannon when her parents, former radicals, are found tortured and killed. What happened in the 1960s will determine Shannon’s future in a fast-paced, standout thriller from Wright.

Christopher Fowler

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Poetry

Human Chain, Seamus Heaney, Faber RRP£12.99

Heaney’s eye and ear for the past, personal and national, again show superlative warmth and depth; from Irish history to childhood vignettes and beautifully rendered scenes of the poet standing apart from time – listening to the trees, breathing in dug earth. The central sequence, “Route 110”, gently but brilliantly echoes Book VI of the Aeneid.

The Wrecking Light, Robin Robertson, Picador RRP£8.99

Playful resurrections of Scottish folklore – especially stories of “weird women” with mistrusted powers – are executed with a scholar’s precision. Humour, hard-won for the poet and sympathetically bestowed on friends, gives a knowing edge to this delightful collection.

Sandgrain and Hourglass, Penelope Shuttle, Bloodaxe RRP£8.95

A path away from grief is both sought and rejected by Shuttle in this uncomfortably moving book, which tries to prise the memory of her husband from the untenable fantasy of his return.

New Light for the Old Dark, Sam Willetts, Jonathan Cape RRP£10

A debut written with a heavy voice, bleakly burdened by a history of drug addiction. Willetts, though downcast, is never self-pitying, and always striving for redemption.

Natalie Whittle

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Children’s

The Adventures Of Ook And Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen From The Future, by Dav Pilkey, Scholastic RRP£8.99

From the creator of Captain Underpants comes this comic strip time-travel caper. It’s misspelled, crudely drawn, wilfully dumb, full of puke and slapstick – all that parents loathe and children lap up.

Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne, David Fickling Books RRP£10.99

Both a hymn to the story of Pinocchio and a charming fantasy in its own right, Noah Barleywater... beguiles and haunts. A child trying to escape the terrible truths of the real world finds the world of fiction no substitute but a consolation nonetheless.

How Ali Ferguson Saved Houdini, by Elen Caldecott, Bloomsbury RRP£5.99

Ali and his friends Caitlin and Gez set out to foil an animal-smuggling ring in this kid-sleuth adventure set unflinchingly in contemporary Britain. The book manages to be fun and serious at the same time.

Zog,by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Alison Green Books RRP£10.99

The Gruffalo duo do it again with this fable about a dragon, a knight and a damsel in distress, none of them the stock characters we know from fairytale. Donaldson’s rhymes and Scheffler’s illustrations mesh sublimely.

Find Chaffy, by Jamie Smart, Scholastic RRP£5.99

Chaffies – cute, fluffy white mammals – hide in crowds in Smart’s richly detailed, incident-packed double-page spreads. Finding them is half the fun; there’s also the superb silliness of the interleaving storyline to enjoy.

James Lovegrove

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Teen

Boys Don’t Cry, by Malorie Blackman, Doubleday RRP£12.99

A studious black teenage boy suddenly has to care for the baby girl he never knew he fathered, while his younger brother is bullied for being gay. Baby Emma is beautifully evoked, and the book is both touching and thought-provoking.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner, HarperCollins RRP£14.99

Garner’s influential debut celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. This reissued gem mixes Cheshire folklore with Celtic myth and some of the most exciting pot-holing sequences ever written.

Trash, by Andy Mulligan, David Fickling Books RRP£10.99

A gang of slum boys living on a dump in an unnamed country enter a terrifying world of political corruption and murder when they find a dead man’s wallet. A taut and scary political thriller.

Linger, by Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic RRP£7.99

The romantic teenage werewolves of Shiver return, as moody and angst-ridden as ever. The chilly Minnesota settings are well evoked, adolescent emotions are sensitively treated and its bookish central characters make reading look super-cool.

Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathan Stroud, Doubleday RRP£14.99

Fantasy fiction’s most entertaining, sarcastic and mischievous demon causes havoc when he meddles in the row between the Queen of Sheba and the great magician, King Solomon.

Suzi Feay

A round-up of 2010’s best nonfiction

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