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The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, Oneworld, RRP£12.99/Picador, RRP$16
Beatty won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for this dazzling contemporary satire about an African-American fruit farmer who unwittingly becomes a slave-owner. Imagining a world of resegregation and reverse busing, The Sellout is a “howl-a-page assault on the pieties of the race debate in America”, wrote Simon Schama in the FT.
Addlands, by Tom Bullough, Granta, RRP£14.99/Dial Press, RRP$27
Seventy years on a Welsh sheep farm may not sound like a scintillating premise, but the FT’s reviewer found Addlands to be a “a quiet, rural novel of enormous power”. With a profound sense of place, it traces the lives of three generations through change — the arrival of electricity, and later, second homers — and continuity.
Queen of the Night, by Alexander Chee, Michael Joseph, RRP£14.99/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, RRP$28
As sumptuous and operatic as the colourful 19th-century world it describes, this is the story of Lilliet, a singer famed for her “falcon soprano” — a voice that sounds like a mezzo until it reaches a surprising upper register — who finds herself compelled to uncover who has betrayed her insalubrious past. Richly imagined and impressive in scope.
Zero K, by Don DeLillo, Picador, RRP£16.99/Scribner, RRP$27
At 79, the American master surprises yet again with a dystopian take on our desire to preserve life beyond its sell-by date. “The Convergence” is an underground cryonics clinic in the Central Asian desert, attracting the likes of billionaire Ross, who wishes to save his dying wife and, at a later date, himself. A sparely written, yet highly stylised investigation of mortality and our unswerving faith in technology. Vintage DeLillo.
The Pier Falls, by Mark Haddon, Cape, RRP£16.99/Doubleday, RRP$26.95
Told with characteristic matter-of-factness, Haddon’s 68-page title story, in which a pier at a British seaside resort collapses one busy July day, was described by the FT’s reviewer as a “controlled little masterpiece”. These fable-like, occasionally surreal tales offer a toothsome reminder that a good short story can be as rich and thrilling as any novel.
Serious Sweet, by AL Kennedy, Cape, RRP£17.99
Set over the course of a single day, and travelling from Piccadilly to Chiswick via Knightsbridge, AL Kennedy’s latest novel is an ambitious, perambulatory portrait of London and Londoners. At its heart are Meg and Jonathan, a hapless pair whose busy lives seem destined to intersect.
Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy, Hamish Hamilton, RRP£12.99
In a hot, dry, underemployed Spain, 25-year-old Sofia arrives with her mother Rose to find a cure for the latter’s obscure and obsessive ailments. Sofia becomes unhealthily caught up in her mother’s suffering, until she discovers various unexpected forms of release.
Sea Lovers, by Valerie Martin, Serpent’s Tail, RRP£8.99/Nan A Talese, RRP$25.95
Orange Prize-winning author Martin was raised in New Orleans, and many of the unusual 12 stories in this collection are set in the southern states. From mermaids to centaurs, the mythical breaches everyday domesticity in Martin’s writing, but she is at her best when chiselling away at the human condition.
Hystopia, by David Means, Faber, RRP£16.99/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$26
Means, known for his short stories, has written a powerful, multi-layered debut novel set in an alternate version of the 1960s in which JFK survives to run for a third term. Presented as a book within a book — the fragmented writings of a Vietnam veteran who has committed suicide — this is an affecting exploration of the nature of memory, and the uses and danger of fiction itself.
The Sport of Kings, by CE Morgan, Fourth Estate, RRP£16.99/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$27
This epic feat of storytelling about the lives of a horse-breeding dynasty in Kentucky confirms Morgan as a torchbearer for the new southern Gothic tradition. In the lives of the patriarch Henry, his daughter Henrietta and her mixed-race lover Allmon, we encounter a bleak inversion of the American dream.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi, Picador, RRP£14.99/Riverhead, RRP$22
Inventive and free-ranging, Oyeyemi’s short stories take us from a monastery in the south of France to the streets of Prague, via the spirit of the goddess Hecate. Combining the fantastical and the ordinary to dreamlike effect, these tales are full of tenderness, humour and strange delights.
Anatomy of a Soldier, by Harry Parker, Faber, RRP£14.99/Knopf, RRP£25.95
Former British army captain Harry Parker’s semi-autobiographical novel about a soldier who loses both legs is a compelling addition to the literature written by those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Told by a chorus of 45 inanimate objects, from a tourniquet to a surgical saw, it has an atomised structure that offers multiple angles on the same tragic events.
The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047, by Lionel Shriver, Borough Press, RRP£16.99/Harper, RRP$27.99
Known for tackling big contemporary issues head-on, Shriver deals skilfully here with the implications of economic meltdown. The novel, set in a near-ish future, tells of the plight of the once wealthy Mandible family and the decline of four generations into penury, thieving and prostitution.
Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford, Faber, RRP£16.99
Spufford, known as a distinguished writer of non-fiction, brings a hyperactive 18th-century New York to life in his first novel. When charismatic Englishman Robert Smith arrives off the boat with a £1,000 bill, he raises interest and suspicion among the burghers of the city. Reminiscent of the richly imagined work of Hilary Mantel, Spufford’s novel creates a complete world.
All That Man Is, by David Szalay, Cape, RRP£14.99/Graywolf Press, RRP$25
Offering an astute and entertaining survey of the state of the modern European male, Szalay’s interlaced stories focus on nine men facing an impasse at different points in their lives, from a Danish journalist to a French student, an Oxford don and a Russian oligarch. Existential unease made enjoyable, insightful and all too recognisable.
The Lost Time Accidents, by John Wray, Canongate, RRP£16.99/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$27
Narrator Waldy Tolliver writes to his great love, partly to explain his forebears’ eccentric obsession with the physics of time, and partly to justify why he is holed up in a junk-stuffed apartment in Harlem, apparently having stepped out of time himself. Featuring pickle-mongers, science nuts and war criminals, this is an inventive, vivid fiction.