Mr Two-Bomb, by William Coles, Legend Press, RRP£7.99, 284 pages

A dozen people lived through both atom bomb strikes on Japan. Were these survivors – known as hibakusha – the luckiest people on earth or the most unfortunate? The question is at the heart of William Coles’ fourth novel.

August 1945. “Mr Two-Bomb”, as he will one day be nicknamed, works in a Hiroshima factory making kites as part of Japan’s deluded war effort. He is a philanderer and an egoist, which is fortunate, since it is an act of gross insubordination that spares him from the first bomb. Making his way through the carnage, he heads home to Nagasaki, only to arrive 90 minutes before the second bomb is dropped.

Fate and redemption are Coles’ themes, so it’s frustrating that the story restricts itself to the days around the attacks. But the portrait of life in the destroyed cities – narrated by the aged Two-Bomb – is compellingly vivid, the most sustained description of apocalypse since Robert Harris’s Pompeii.

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