The Sunshine Years, by Afsaneh Knight, Doubleday, RRP£16.99, 352 pages
Afsaneh Knight’s second novel deals with a group of affluent Sydney thirtysomething friends including the unfortunately named Story. He is a man numbed by life: “That feeling of everything ending. Of everything moving away from him.” His sister Kali, meanwhile, is emotionally cut off from her husband: “She had tried ... to stab through the sports pages and reach him, bring him close.”
Knight expertly captures that particular guilt and self-loathing that amplifies the internal misery of the outwardly successful. Her best creation is mediocre lawyer JP, a man who rages impotently at life by leaving abusive comments beneath online articles.
Everyone in this world struggles to connect despite always being connected, the “men tippetty-tapping with thumbs, texting their life stories all about town, average as sandwiches, boring as soup.”
Review by Isabel Berwick
Lost Memory of Skin, by Russell Banks, Clerkenwell Press, RRP£7.99, 352 pages
A concrete overpass on Florida’s Gulf coast shelters an encampment of ex-cons and sex offenders, kept away from mainstream society in a kind of latter-day leper colony. The inhabitants include “the Kid”, a misfit with a porn habit, a pet iguana and a criminal record for soliciting a minor. When a local professor takes a particular interest in him for hazily sketched-out research purposes, the Kid’s mistrustful but compliant behaviour leads to an uncomfortable relationship.
Lost Memory of Skin is both a thriller and an inquiry into societal values, although it never fully inhabits either mode. Fascinating but mostly dislikeable characters feed the novel’s atmosphere of moral ambiguity and the whole feels unanchored – perhaps provocatively so. Banks has written eloquently before on marginal existences; here, he probes issues of trust, deceit and exploitation.
Review by James Urquhart
The Healer, by Antti Tuomainen, Harvill Secker, RRP£12.99, 256 pages
It’s winter in Helsinki, and as if that isn’t depressing enough, India and China are at war, Bangladesh is plague-ridden, the Mexicans are conducting missile strikes on Los Angeles, the Amazon is on fire, and Spain and Italy are in a state of economic collapse. Climate change, pandemics and social chaos are ravaging the world, and Finland’s flooded capital is playing host to thousands of fleeing refugees.
Tapani is an unemployed poet who’s no use in this doomsday scenario until he’s forced to discover his inner detective when his journalist wife, Johanna, goes missing after investigating a series of politically motivated murders; an avenger called the Healer is taking out the executives and politicians who contribute to climate change.
Tuomainen’s spare style suits the depressing subject and raises a serious question: how do you find hope when law and order break down?
Review by Christopher Fowler
The Honey Guide, by Richard Crompton, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, RRP£12.99, 320 pages
Richard Crompton’s Kenyan cop, appearing here for the first time, is called Mollel. Having lost his wife in the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, this former Maasai warrior is working for the Nairobi police.
Set against the 2007 Kenyan election, when between 800 and 1,500 people died in violence that was the result of ethnic tensions, the novel revolves around the investigation into the murder of a prostitute. From the moment we meet Mollel, flinging a coconut to fell a thief who retaliates by putting his thumbs into the cop’s extended earlobes, we enter an entirely fresh world.
In a country rife with political corruption, where half the population lives in absolute poverty, finding a murderer is the least problematic part of Mollel’s job. This is a smashing debut, as fleet-footed as the warrior himself. It will make you long for the next instalment.
Review by Christopher Fowler