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Book Reviews: Gerard Woodward's beautifully written short stories collection features strong black humour

Gerard Woodward, author of Legoland - featuring `some stories you might want to avoid reading before bed'

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Legoland by Gerard Woodward, published in hardback by Picador

GERARD Woodward is probably best known for his trilogy of stories about the Jones family - August, I'll Go To Bed At Noon and A Curious Earth. But his latest offering, Legoland, sees him returning to short stories, a format that Woodward - also a poet - is well suited to. The stories range from the mundane to the surreal. There's the beautifully observed story of Williamina, who leaves her husband only to find herself receiving regular visits from persistent suitors. Then there's the man who creates an exact replica of his sitting room in his basement - but everything is upside down, and the writer who ends up on the run after he finds himself caught up in a bloody revolution. A strong sense of black humour runs throughout these 15 stories. They will leave you amused, sometimes confused and often unnerved - there are some you might want to avoid reading before bed. But these beautifully written stories will captivate you, move you and stay with you for a long time.

Sophie Herdman

***

The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton

THIS is the latest outing for what must be the most offbeat but likeable characters in crime fiction - DC Simon Waterhouse and his wife Sergeant Charlie Zailer. They and the rest of the Culver Valley police team must track down a murderer, code-named Billy Dead Mates because of his habit of killing pairs of friends. Central to the investigation are spiky, stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck and strident feminist Sondra Halliday, who fires off vitriolic blogs and wages battle with all and sundry on social media. But as usual with poet and award-winning author Sophie Hannah's novels, the whodunnit element of the plot is a tiny fraction of what makes this a superb read. It's not just that all the characters, who feature in the TV adaptation Case Sensitive, are beautifully drawn, it's the subtle humour running through, from first page to unusual sign-off. Deeply satisfying and somehow life-affirming, it leaves you longing for your next fix of Waterhouse and Zailer.

Gill Oliver

***

The Maker Of Swans by Paraic O'Donnell, published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

THE Maker of Swans is the intriguing tale of Mr Crowe, his mute ward Clara, his authoritative adversaries and his ever-loyal servant, Eustace. A delightful mix of paranormal and gothic, this novel is richly descriptive and the reader cannot help but try and cast the main characters in their mind, as the narrative is quite beautifully filmic. The story opens at an eerie manor house and gunshots are heard all around. Eustace is tasked with clearing up the mess his mysterious master Mr Crowe has left behind and we soon learn that the events of this night will have serious consequences for everyone on the estate. Clara, Mr Crowe's young ward, is rather otherworldly and we never learn why or how she came to be on the estate, but she is incredibly intangible and magical. Despite the text being a little dense and confusing at times, this novel deserves to be given time to appreciate the poetry of Paraic O'Donnell's language. It's captivating and an impressive debut novel.

Heather Doughty

***

Thomas And Mary: A Love Story by Tim Parks, published in hardback by Harvill Secker

THIS love story in reverse from Tim Parks begins bluntly with its central characters establishing their separate routines and contrasting views on marriage. It is a cold opening into a cold marriage that feels instantly alienating, however as the novel plays out, you discover the reasons they found each other and the emotional connections that bind them. As a fan of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, I can appreciate Parks's desire to present you with heartbreak and then explain why the love was worth it, however Thomas And Mary does not offer enough balance to make you really wish the protagonists will end up together. The fragmented style of the novel offers a wider context on their marriage, which is generally engaging. But largely you are left wondering who is narrating from one moment to the next, and I never really lost the feeling that the narrative offered a misogynistic bias towards the adulterer, Thomas. Though witty and pleasantly asymmetric, Thomas And Mary unfortunately never gets off the ground in the way you want it to.

Holly McKenzie

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