Books: Emma Donoghue, Zadie Smith, SJ Watson, Luan Goldie, Eugenia Cheng...
The Pull Of The Stars by Emma Donoghue is published in hardback by Picador, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99)
EMMA Donoghue wrote this startling and extraordinary novel before the coronavirus pandemic hit – but it couldn't be more prescient. The Pull Of The Stars takes place across three days in 1918, where on a makeshift, thoroughly understaffed maternity ward in Dublin, Nurse Julia Power is trying to support pregnant women through labour, while Spanish influenza goes about its insidious, fatal work. Eerie comparisons with Covid aside (like the often bizarre and confusing government messaging, outrage of public coughing, and conspiracy theories etc.) Julia's observations on the odds pregnant women in poverty already face, and the havoc wreaked on their bodies from having too many children, too young, is devastating – and fascinating – to read. Donoghue deftly weaves in politics, policy, the impact of war, feminism, violence and the minutiae of changing bed pans and sterilising instruments, while dealing with dismissive male doctors and birthing babies. A powerful and incredibly moving book that speaks through time.
Final Cut by SJ Watson is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
BESTSELLING author SJ Watson (Before I Go To Sleep) is back with another disturbing psychological thriller. Like the quiet village where documentary film-maker Alex's new project is set, the pace is slow for much of the novel. Watson is a master manipulator of suspense – every time you think you're close to a revealing a chink of truth, it suddenly becomes a dead end. Everyone in town is a suspect, and Alex's own secrets are tied up in it all too. A complex plot centred on psychological dissociation and amnesia shatters the novel's timeline, with chapters flitting between ‘then' and ‘now'. As unpredictable as the turbulent tide, you'll be caught up in the relentless winding tension until the truth eventually breaks and you're able to breathe freely again.
Homecoming by Luan Goldie is published in hardback by HarperCollins, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.99)
LUAN Goldie's new book has a title that suggests identity will be at its core, instead, Homecoming sees identity pushed to the background in favour of interpersonal relationships and drama. The action flashes from past to present and focuses on four characters: Yvonne and Emma, two best friends from university who drift apart, Lewis, the father of Emma's baby who has an on-again, off-again relationship with Yvonne, and Kiama, the child. In the present day, 18-year-old Kiama visits his mother's home country of Kenya to come to terms with her death. Goldie is skilled at drip-feeding information to keep the reader in the dark and desperate to know what actually happened. However, with Emma being white and from Kenya, Lewis black and from London and Kiama mixed race, it feels like there's a wealth of issues around identity that are just not touched upon. It's a gripping read, but you're left wanting more.
Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith is published in paperback by Penguin, priced £5.99 (ebook £4.49)
IN THIS slim collection of new pieces – proceeds from which are going to charity – the author of White Teeth and The Autograph Man explores thoughts, feelings and issues raised by the experience of lockdown. Writing from New York on the verge of leaving for London, Zadie Smith confesses to a new self-consciousness about how she fills her time. Smith says she writes for something to do – and she isn't the only person who has been searching for ways to fill their time. She reflects on suffering and the limits of compassion, and sketches the centuries-old history of the virus of (racist) contempt. Her explorations are always thoughtful and quietly provocative. The collection is strongly personal too, as Smith recounts vignettes from her own everyday existence, and reflects on some of the key figures, famous and family alike, who have helped form her. It is a slight book, but its reflections will continue to reverberate.
X+Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender by Eugenia Cheng is published in hardback by Profile Books, priced £16.99 (ebook £6.17)
THIS book does not so much rethink gender as remove it from the equation, thus sidestepping any issues of gender-based discrimination. Where it is useful is in shifting the debate in a way that allows a comparison of characteristics often associated with male or female, while avoiding the need to constantly qualify any statements with the awkward tag of ‘not all women' or ‘not all men'. As the author herself states, this is a reframing of the debate, as inspired by her background in category theory. Her major shift is in the creation of the terms ‘congressive' and ‘ingressive' as useful shorthand for traits that might roughly be summarised as ‘caring and sharing', as opposed to ‘competitive and individualistic'. In the end, however, Chen's (very practical) solutions seem to rely on individuals without power learning to be more assertive, and those with it learning to act in ways that are more inclusive; rather than on any kind of structural change.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens, published in paperback by Puffin, priced £6.99 (ebook £3.99)
THIS is a thrilling end to the Murder Most Unladylike series, joining Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong on their holiday cruise along the Nile. A grisly murder is never far from this pair, and within days of boarding they're unpacking the twists and turns of a cult leader's untimely demise before their boat docks in Aswan. Fortunately, the Junior Pinkertons happen to be onboard too, so there are four detective minds working the case – and a few extra characters who help this instalment feel fresh and well rounded. Emotional challenges are also explored as the girls leave their childhoods behind. Ending an award-winning series can be a challenge, but Robin Stevens delivers a clever murder mystery that sucks the reader in and pays homage to queen of crime, Agatha Christie. This is a fantastic read that should please fans, and anyone new to the series will still find it thoroughly readable.