LITERARY FICTION

LITERARY FICTION

A HUNGER by Ross Raisin (Cape £16.99, 464pp)

A HUNGER 

by Ross Raisin (Cape £16.99, 464pp) 

Raisin might not yet be a household name but there can be no doubt he’s one of our best novelists. His previous book, A Natural, centred on lower-league football. This new novel, about a talented chef, unfolds in an equally combustible atmosphere of toxic hierarchies and hard-won camaraderie. 

But that’s only half the story: protagonist Anita is also nursing her husband, Patrick, through early dementia, putting the skids on her longheld dream of opening a restaurant. 

Grudges threaten to boil over, not least because Patrick was so often a nasty piece of work — as their grownup son Matthew, long incommunicado, knows all too bitterly. 

Dealing sensitively with love, ambition and duty — not to mention the bodily experience of womanhood, from youth to late middle age (something Raisin tackles bravely as well as persuasively) — this is a superlative novel, full of compelling flesh-and-blood characters. Absolutely not to be missed. 

MILK TEETH 

by Jessica Andrews (Sceptre £16.99, 256pp) 

Andrews’ second novel revisits the themes of her debut, Saltwater, which told of a young woman who leaves Sunderland to study in London only to struggle with the psychological toll of cross-class dislocation. 

A similar journey is made by the unnamed narrator of Milk Teeth, which takes its place in a rich seam of recent novels addressing problems of money, sex and body image as experienced by millennial women. 

The heroine, struggling with eating disorders and panic attacks while working in a string of temporary jobs, feels continually out of place amid various fresh starts, whether it’s London or Barcelona, where she follows a boyfriend, or Paris for a nannying gig. 

A tide of sharply sensuous detail keeps the reader riveted as the book flows by in a series of candidly recounted episodes sustained by voice rather than plot. Andrews takes aim at the cultural pressures shaping unhealthy ideals of femininity without ever seeming to preach. 

ANCESTRY by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown £18.99, 432pp)

ANCESTRY 

by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown £18.99, 432pp) 

Mawerhas been publishing fiction since 1989, but his big break came 20 years later when he made the Booker shortlist with The Glass Room, drawn on Czech wartime history. He followed that success with The Girl Who Fell From The Sky and Tightrope, all-action espionage thrillers inspired by the lives of the undercover female spies who fought the Nazis. 

Genealogy is the inspiration of his new book, a metafictional hybrid that spotlights its own invention. It draws on the wispy archival records of Mawer’s Victorian ancestry to imagine the lives of, among others, a London seamstress and a soldier sent to the Crimea. 

Told with brio, the gutsy narrative evokes the messiness and fragility of everyday life in the 19th century. 

I was moved by Mawer’s defence of storytelling as a vital tool of historical recovery, yet despite the sincerity of Mawer’s investment in the project, the result feels neither fish nor fowl, as his pacy imaginative speculation rubs up against more sober selfquestioning commentary. 

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