THE SELFLESS ACT OF BREATHING by JJ Bola (Dialogue Books £14.99)
THE SELFLESS ACT OF BREATHING
by JJ Bola (Dialogue Books £14.99)
This is the second novel from poet JJ Bola, and tells the story of young black London schoolteacher Michael Kabongo who, when we meet him, has just decided to end his life.
Emptying his savings account, he heads to America, vowing that he will kill himself when his money runs out. What has driven him to such desperation is revealed slowly over the course of the book: a stultifying miasma of grief for his dead father; rage and disaffection.
Bola persuasively renders Michael’s spiralling depression, which — set as it is against the brutality of city life, gang violence and police racism — we understand as a pain larger than his alone.
It’s uncompromising stuff, but injections of precipitous drama — a car-jacking in LA; a doomed love affair in New York — together with unexpected flights of lyricism keep things moving. An emotive, brave novel that ultimately holds out the prospect of salvation, without sacrificing any of its power.
PEACES by Helen Oyeyemi (Faber £14.99)
by Helen Oyeyemi (Faber £14.99)
Typically defying summary, Oyeyemi’s addling new confection sees us in the company of non-newlyweds Otto and Xavier Shin as they embark on their non-honeymoon from an unassuming Kent station. Needless to say, the train they board isn’t any old train — boasting a library, sauna and greenhouse, it is also the permanent residence of Ava Kapoor, a reclusive keyboard player.
It’s not so much a merry dance that Oyeyemi orchestrates as a blindfold helter-skelter ride into the dark — part Agatha Christie, part Harry Potter.
Only halfway through does she enlighten us with a plot, concerning an inheritance that hinges on the sanity of Kapoor herself.
Somewhere amid it all there are thoughts about desire, the relative nature of perception, and how we sustain others with our attention and love, or deny them through its lack. But that’s by the by: the main selling point here is, as always, Oyeyemi’s anarchically teeming imagination.
THE GARDENER by Salley Vickers (Viking £16.99)
by Salley Vickers (Viking £16.99)
Fairy-tale illustrator Arthur Rackham is invoked on the first page of this gentle yarn — knowingly, since narrator Hassie is herself a children’s illustrator, and there’s more than a hint of the storybook about her situation.
Following the death of their father, Hassie and her high-flying financier sister, Margot, sink their inheritance into a Jacobean pile. Located on the English side of the Welsh Marches, Knight’s Fee is in need of some TLC and, pressingly, a gardener.
Assistance comes in the form of Albanian migrant Murat, but his green shoots don’t match Hassie’s mood as it turns out she is mourning not just her dad, but an ill-advised, ill-fated love affair — one that may yet not be over.
Set against the backdrop of Brexit, Vickers teases out themes of pride, prejudice and the long shadows cast by those who raise us, as illusions and assumptions are exposed. It’s never less than diverting, but, compared with Vickers’s recent Grandmothers, rather inconsequential.
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