The Gurkha’s Daughter: Stories, by Prajwal Parajuly, Quercus, RRP£12.99, 272 pages
Parajuly’s accomplished debut collection is set among the people of Nepal and the Nepali diaspora. Though its recurring themes – the conflict between tradition and modernity; the squirming of the individual under the community’s oppressive gaze – may be familiar, Parajuly’s wry humour and deft handling of voice point to a distinctive talent.
In “The Cleft” a servant girl’s disfigurement serves as a metaphor for class distinctions in a Kathmandu household. The title story recounts a Gurkha’s troubles from a child’s touching perspective. Other tales feel overplotted: “A Father’s Journey”, which concerns a daughter’s gradual estrangement from her family, and “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, narrated by a disgruntled Kalimpong shopkeeper, are strangled by exposition. But in the best stories here, such as the gorgeously subtle “The Immigrants”, in which Nepalis in New York bond over momo dumplings and memories of home, Parajuly gives his characters room to breathe.
How to Be a Good Wife, by Emma Chapman, Picador, RRP£12.99, 288 pages
Marta Bjornstad is a housewife in an unnamed Scandinavian village. Prescribed medication that dulls her mind, Marta cannot remember her life before she met husband Hector, and begins to suspect that his story about her background – that her parents died in a car crash – disguises a more sinister truth.
Chapman’s debut can be read both as a taut thriller and an allegory of the female experience in an unhappy marriage, the waning sense of self felt by the woman who attends to the needs of her family before her own. Though the dialogue can be banal, and Chapman doesn’t make as much of the bleak Nordic setting as she might, Marta’s gradual slide into madness is brilliantly convincing.
As with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, the narrator’s psychological torment contrasts disconcertingly with the detached language in which it is described (“there it is again, that strange echoing fear, slipping through the cracks that have formed in the memory”). It makes for a darkly fascinating debut.