Paperbacks: The Parisian
By Isabella Hammad, Jonathan Cape, £14.99
It is startling to think this ambitious tour-de-force was written into life by someone at the start of their literary career.
Weaving together history and personal tragedy, this debut novel from Isabella Hammad starts with Midhat, a Palestinian teenager who finds himself studying in France at the outbreak of the First World War.
Having fallen disastrously in love, the young man returns home and settles down to a life worthy of his father’s expectations, while Palestine struggles for independence. But an unexpected betrayal, surfacing years later, threatens to unravel the life he has built.
Complicated and panoramic, yet with even the tiniest of details meticulously observed, this debut follows the changing desires of a boy as he is moulded into a man, the irresistible pull of family loyalty and the search for peace, as much within as on the global stage.
Memories of the Future
By Siri Hustvedt, Sceptre, £18.99
Review by Dan Brotzel
Memories of the Future tells the story of a year in the life of “SH”, or “Minnesota”, a bright young woman of Scandinavian heritage, who moves from her home in the Midwest to New York City in the late-Seventies, in pursuit of academic and literary dreams.
We also hear from SH’s older, current incarnation, a well-established author reflecting on her younger self.
In the present day, SH also tells us about her nonagenarian mother. Among her mother’s things, the older narrator discovers a notebook made by her younger self, which relates how the would-be writer is accosted by a story.
Through the walls of her apartment, she hears her neighbour speak of a man and a child who died from a fall. Is she mad? A victim? A cult member? An actor?
We read excerpts from a draft novel Minnesota wrote at the time, later abandoned. There’s also an account of a sexual assault and its ramifications, a powerful refutation of philosophy’s other-minds fallacy and the rescuing of a poet.
Hustvedt deftly weaves and juxtaposes all these levels and strands to form a powerful exploration of the mechanics of story-making, the fallibility of memory and the injustices of gender.
As always, she is absorbing, acute and frighteningly clever.
Last Ones Left Alive
By Sarah Davis-Goff, Tinder Press, £12.99
Review by Ella Walker
If you like your fiction dystopian and mildly terrifying, this debut should pique your interest.
In an unrecognisable Ireland, where Skrake — humans turned rabid, hungry and deadly, their flesh falling from their bodies — stalk the land, live humans are scarce and history (even the recent past) has been fragmented.
Teenager Orpen has been kept safe and strong by her mam and Maeve, on a Skrake-free island off the mainland, but now she’s alone, apart from a barrow, a water bottle, her knives (which she very much knows how to use) and a dog called Danger. Her plan is to set out to find more of anything — and, hopefully, anyone.
An apocalyptic road-trip by foot, Davis-Goff captures the teetering fears of a world asunder and so minutely details Orpen’s exhaustion and determination that you feel haggard and worn with her.
It’s also vividly gruesome — you’ll feel dead breath on the back of your neck.
Make Me a City
By Jonathan Carr, Scribe, £16.99
Review by Rebecca Wilcock
Jonathan Carr’s debut novel is a curious take on historical fiction. Although the story does follow the creation of Chicago between 1800 and 1900, it feels more like a collection of character vignettes.
From Echicagou’s first settler, Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable, to Antje Hunter, the first woman to report for the Chicago Tribune, Make Me a City utilises fictional fragments of letters, diaries and personal accounts to tell the stories of the people of Chicago.
It is these relationships and journeys that take precedence over major factual events, such as reversing the Chicago River.
Carr’s decision to take this route will divide the crowd.
The history part is a rather sweeping view, despite the novel taking the form of a non-fiction book — but, ultimately, these mini-biographical sketches impart more serious commentary on aspects of history, such as racism, greed and love.