LITERARY FICTION

LITERARY FICTION

NOW SHE IS WITCH by Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker £16.99, 352pp)

NOW SHE IS WITCH 

by Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker £16.99, 352pp) 

You don’t need a crystal ball (or a cauldron) to foresee that witches will continue to cast a spell this year. July will see the publication of The Witching Tide by Margaret Meyer, which is likely to be one of this year’s notable debuts — but until then there are plenty of spooky drama and dark arts to be going on with here. 

Lux has grown up with talk of the north witches — their terrible shape-shifting powers and their eerie, volcanic land. Her own, charm-selling mother was burned for sorcery, as was the lover who introduced her to erotic pleasure. 

But it’s not until Lux meets the mysterious Else that she encounters real witchery, becoming caught up with Else’s quest for revenge against the ‘Lord’, a man whose judgments have condemned many women. 

There’s a zeitgeisty insistence on the right to self-definition at the heart of Logan’s visceral fairytale, as well as an impassioned reclaiming of female desire. Stuffed, Russian-doll like, with stories, it’s on the baggy side, but nonetheless an absorbingly atmospheric adventure.

THE END OF NIGHTWORK 

by Aidan Cottrell-Boyce (Granta £12.99, 288pp) 

There’s a lot going on in this ambitious and singular debut by Cottrell-Boyce, son of the screenwriter and children’s author, Frank. Our narrator is Pol — short for Polonius — who, in the course of the novel, becomes a husband, a father and also an old man while still in his 30s, due to a mysterious disease that causes fitful, catastrophic bouts of ageing. 

Pol’s own condition is, however, of somewhat less interest to him than the writings of a mysterious 17th-century prophet obsessed with the coming Armageddon. But that fascination gives way in turn when Pol learns about an internet-based millenarian movement focused on intergenerational conflict and the transformation of society in favour of the disenfranchised young. 

Timely ideas, and ideas about time, take the fore here — including, the author has suggested, how depression affects the experience of its passage. But if Pol’s condition is a metaphor, it’s an elusive one, and the novel’s human drama, though at times painfully acute, is only intermittently engaging. 

BEFORE ALL THE WORLD by Moriel Rothman-Zecher (Corsair £18.99, 336pp)

BEFORE ALL THE WORLD 

by Moriel Rothman-Zecher (Corsair £18.99, 336pp) 

Set in Philadelphia in the 1930s, this novel purports to be translated from Yiddish but, with so many linguistic inventions and interventions, this extensively footnoted end product most closely resembles something by Joyce or Samuel Beckett. 

Three characters are at its heart — Jewish immigrant Leyb, his black American lover Charles (also the narrative’s ‘translator’), and poet Gittl, who grew up in the same fictional Ukrainian village as Leyb and survived a massacre in which its entire Jewish population was slaughtered. 

It’s this that provides the book’s most hard-hitting moment, with pages dedicated to Gittl’s prayers for the dead. 

A highly original and powerful tale told in defiance of the world’s darkness, it’s nonetheless hard work, and questionable how many readers will feel inspired enough to put in the requisite effort. 

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