The Castle of Whispers, by Carole Martinez, translated by Howard Curtis, Europa Editions, RRP£13.99/$23.95, 192 pages

In 1187, 15-year-old Esclarmonde refuses to marry, choosing instead the life of an anchorite. Chapel walls are built around her and she bears a child. As the baby demands the maturity of a woman, Esclarmonde changes and eventually comes to regret her teenage desire to be a saint. But it is too late – during her internment no one in the community has died and it now depends on her prayers.

After a quiet publication, Carole Martinez’s first novel won many prizes in France as a result of booksellers’ recommendations, and this second book is heading the same way. Word-of-mouth is an appropriate theme: Martinez’s lay characters – the pitchfork-clutching crowds, whispering ghosts and promiscuous fairies – are straight out of Perrault’s tales (Bluebeard especially).

Whether English-language readers will show the same enthusiasm for this mix depends on Howard Curtis’s translation, which lacks some of the colour and lyricism of the original.

Review by Lucie Elven

In The Light of Morning, by Tim Pears, William Heinemann, RRP£17.99, 352 pages

Inspired by his father’s experience during the second world war, Tim Pears’s eighth novel is set in Slovenia where a ragtag resistance, aided by the Allies, fought the occupying Nazi forces.

In The Light of Morning begins in May 1944 with a leap into enemy territory by three British parachutists: Jack Farwell, an upper-crust major with a neat line in bluster; radio operator Sid Dixon, a salt-of-the-earth Devon farm lad; and Tom Freedman, a naive, sexually conflicted young academic. The trio link up with the Partisans and trek through the forests and mountains looking for targets to sabotage. But the stakes are raised as their attacks become more daring, and Tom becomes caught in a love triangle with the group’s leader, Jovan, and a beautiful female fighter called Marija.

Pears writes with a deceptive quietness; carefully wrought moments and images – of the soldiers and landscape – slowly gather power, illuminating the experience war.

Review by Carl Wilkinson

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Fourth Estate, RRP£8.99 / Anchor, RRP$15.95, 400 pages

Americanah is the teasing nickname for a Nigerian girl who has settled in the US and it is a word with loaded meaning for Ifemelu, the protagonist of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel.

Ifemelu, born and raised in Nigeria, is now completing a fellowship at Princeton. She has an African-American boyfriend, Blaine, with whom she has seemed to be happy. She writes a blog about the social politics of race in the US. But she has reached a point of crisis: for Ifemelu, “Nigeria became where she was supposed to be”.

Adichie’s last book, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and in her able prose, social comedy mingles with cultural polemic under the umbrella of an exuberantly romantic love story. It’s a novel about race and deracination, homesickness, the experience of, and need for, feeling at home. Americanah presents a warm, digressive and wholly achieved sense of how African lives are lived in Nigeria, in the US and in the places between.

Review by Sam Leith

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