Past the Shallows, by Favel Parrett, John Murray, RRP£8.99, 272 pages
Joe, Miles and Harry are motherless brothers growing up on the Tasmanian coast, their sense of worth and safety under siege from the vicious moods of their father. Parrett’s first published novel resonates with the tension of an unpredictable life: both at home and at sea, where the father ekes out an increasingly hopeless living as a fisherman.
Their mother has died in a car crash and, without fully understanding what happened, the boys know that it has turned their father into the kind of man who can hold his own son’s face under the waves long enough to nearly drown him.
Parrett is brilliant at conveying the unbearably sad twin-track life of a child who scampers over sand dunes and lusts over lucky-dip bags at fairgrounds, only to come home to a raggedy house with barely enough to eat.
This book has childhood at its heart. But Parrett has movingly made it about adult struggle, of people bowed by economic and emotional devastation.
Review by Sue Norris
70% Acrylic, 30% Wool, by Viola Di Grado, translated by Michael Reynolds, Europa Editions, RRP£9.99, 192 pages
Di Grado’s debut – a prize-winner in Italy – tells the story of Camelia, a young Italian woman living in Leeds. When her father dies in a car accident, Camelia takes responsibility for her grieving mother Livia. Lonely and isolated, she finds solace in lessons with Wen, a Chinese teacher.
This offbeat novel is rather more sophisticated than it first appears, and can be read as a subtle meditation on language and its failures. Livia has become mute, communicating only through gesture; Camelia, unable to express her feelings for Wen, starts an ill-fated relationship with his volatile brother.
With passages in Italian, English and Chinese, this must have been a difficult work to translate, and it shows in the slightly awkward prose style. But Camelia’s narration, with its gloomy turn of phrase, is for the most part nicely realised: Leeds is a place “where winter has been under way for such a long time that nobody is old enough to have seen what came before”.
Review by David Evans
Capital, by John Lanchester, Faber, RRP£7.99, 592 pages
Lanchester’s interest in forms of currency underpins this enjoyably huge comic novel exploring the intersecting lives of many residents in a south London street.
Roger Yount, a lazy banker praying for a seven-figure bonus, offers a rich opportunity for satire but Lanchester’s garrulous prose and urbane observations also bring life to a wider cast of characters. Matya, the Younts’ sexy Hungarian nanny, ponders “the currents of money on which much of London seemed to float”, and Lanchester reinterprets what capital means for his various protagonists. The Younts’ scrupulous Polish builder sends cash home to his parents, while a Banksy-like conceptual artist known as “Smitty” zealously guards the anonymity that underpins his commercial prestige.
A mildly menacing plot line knits these diverse lives together but the real triumph of Capital is Lanchester’s deft portraiture. His assured caricatures often yield odd, redeeming traits in a rolling narrative.
Review by James Urquhart
Resurrection Engines: 16 Extraordinary Tales of Scientific Romance, edited by Scott Harrison, Snowbooks, RRP£7.99, 534 pages
Resurrection Engines sees an assortment of authors reimagine literary classics through the prism of steampunk (a subgenre of science fiction that celebrates Victorian invention and technology in a knowing, retro-futuristic style).
Robots abound. Dr Jekyll’s monstrous alter-ego is a sentient military exoskeleton, Peter Pan creates his own scrap-metal Lost Boys, and Silas Marner, in a moving tale by Alison Littlewood, adopts an artificial Eppie.
The contributors who stray furthest from the brief bring back the richest rewards. Juliet E McKenna’s feminist rewrite of She is cunning and funny, and Philip Palmer adds aliens to The Woman in White to great effect. Adam Roberts’s delirious “The Crime of the Ancient Mariner” replaces Coleridge’s sea voyage with time travel, and works a treat.
A foreword from the editor, contextualising the stories, would have been welcome. Nonetheless, this anthology is both varied and consistently entertaining.
Review by James Lovegrove
The Explorer, by James Smythe, Harper Voyager, RRP£12.99, 265 pages
The spaceship in Smythe’s second novel, the Ishiguro, is named after a fictional Japanese scientist; but one wonders if this isn’t also an authorial nod to the well-known writer. The Explorer does have the dreamlike detachment of a Kazuo Ishiguro novel and the same tendency towards vagueness and imprecision.
The ship’s six-strong crew blast off from Earth on a seemingly aimless mission, simply to go Out There. One by one they start dying in mysterious circumstances until only journalist Cormac Easton remains. Disaster looms. Then, for reasons not fully explained, Easton relives the entire doomed journey, haunting the ship like a ghost, watching events unfold, powerless to alter them.
This isn’t, strictly speaking, science fiction. It is magic realism dressed up in a spacesuit. It is reminiscent of a 1970s space movie, one of those grim existential fables where the darkness of the void mirrors the darkness of the human soul.
Review by James Lovegrove