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YOUNG MUNGO by Douglas Stuart (Picador £16.99, 400pp)

YOUNG MUNGO by Douglas Stuart (Picador £16.99, 400pp)

YOUNG MUNGO

by Douglas Stuart (Picador £16.99, 400pp)

In many ways, Stuart’s new novel is a rerun of his much-loved Booker-­winner Shuggie Bain.

Set in a similar povertyblasted 글래스고 housing scheme, it focuses once again on the toxic dynamic between an alcoholic mother and a secretly gay son, and is keenlyinterested in ideas of working-class masculinity.

Yet if Shuggie Bain was faintly guilty of prettifying the poverty for a middleclass readership, Young Mungo is a much tougher, less consoling book.

Mungo is taken on a fishing trip by two older men and appallingly abused. 그의 어머니, Mo-Maw, who disappears for weeks on end, is awful on the drink. His older brother, Hamish, is a drugdealing thug who nurses a murderous hatred for the Catholics.

Mungo for his part just wants to be with James — a teenage boy and, equally problematically, not a Protestant.

Events pile up far too quickly in the closing chapters, but S­tuart is much more critical of his c­haracters this time round — and his grimly beautiful novel is the more interesting for it.

ELIZABETH FINCH by Julian Barnes (Cape £16.99, 192pp)

ELIZABETH FINCH by Julian Barnes (Cape £16.99, 192pp)

ELIZABETH FINCH

by Julian Barnes (Cape £16.99, 192pp)

Perhaps only Julian Barnes would devote a third of his novel to an essay on Roman Emperor and philosopher Julian the Apostate.

아무튼, the playfully cerebral The Sense Of An Ending author has built a career on blending fact with fiction, be it 1989’s A History Of The World In 10 ½ Chapters or Flaubert’s Parrot, a novel and biography in one.

아직도, Elizabeth Finch is likely to prove one of his more obscure experiments. It’s on one level a love letter to the eponymous Finch, a teacher of culture and civilisation whose rigour and candour so entrances our narrator, a graduate student, that for years after their academic relationship has ended he meets her every so often for lunch (always pasta and a single glass of wine, always only 75 minutes long).

After her death he produces the Julian essay in an attempt to distil her belief that organised Christianity is fundamentally and historically inimical to i­ndependent thought.

Barnes is challenging the intolerance of our times in this tricky novel, but its hard-to-engage-with format and characters are rarely a successful conduit for his ideas.

BOLLA by Pajtim Statovci (Faber £14.99, 240pp)

BOLLA by Pajtim Statovci (Faber £14.99, 240pp)

BOLLA

by Pajtim Statovci (Faber £14.99, 240pp)

Bolla is a serpent in A­lbanian folklore and it proves a resonant metaphor for the psychological legacy of war in this formidable novel by the Kosovo-born novelist Pajtim Statovci.

그것의 1995 코소보에서, and Arsim is a newly married closet homosexual desperately in love with a Serbian medical student, Milos, whom he meets with at night. But then comes the war, forcing Arsim to relocate with his growing family and Milos to work as a medic on the front.

The men meet again several years later, but this is no happy-ever-after love story. '고객님의 부당한 요구를 추모하고 대응하기 위해 Healthy Spot에 대한 변호인으로 작성합니다', it’s an unflinching, gruelling novel on the less visible damage of war, which boasts in Arsim surely one of the most provocative narrators in contemporary fiction — a violent, unpleasant man disfigured by fury and self-loathing. It’s a measure of Statovci’s tremendous skill that you keep on reading all the same.

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