LITERARY FICTION

LITERARY FICTION

AFRAID OF THE LIGHT by Douglas Kennedy (Hutchinson £13.99, 352 pp)

AFRAID OF THE LIGHT

by Douglas Kennedy (Hutchinson £13.99, 352 pp)

Douglas Kennedy, who was born in the U.S. and splits his time between Europe and America, is a multi-million bestseller who, oddly, finds himself more celebrated in French translation than in his native English.

In his new novel, set in Los Angeles, Brendan is a 56-year-old Uber driver hard-pressed to make ends meet after getting the boot from his sales job at a tech firm.

What starts as a study of gig-economy grind explosively shifts gear when Brendan picks up his latest fare, Elise, an ex-academic on her way to volunteer at an abortion clinic.

It’s the cue for the novel to rev up into a pulse-racing thriller centred on hot-button debates over U.S. reproductive rights, as Brendan finds himself questioning his Catholicism after being plunged into a deadly fight against militant anti-abortion activism.

Kennedy’s action-packed storyline puts a punchy spin on the traditional narrative of male later-life crisis.

THE PAPER LANTERN

by Will Burns (W&N £14.99, 192 pp)

Is this elegiac debut, set during the first lockdown last spring, really a novel? I’m not sure, but nor am I sure it matters much.

It’s told by a would-be poet who, at the age of 39, works in his parents’ pub in a commuter-belt market town that has become a bolthole for City bankers while resentful locals mutter into their pints.

The book partly functions as a document of the eerie period directly after the emergence of Covid, but also tackles Brexit, HS2 and global warming (and that’s just for starters), as Burns exploits the elasticity of fictional form as a way to contain free-ranging reflection on the state of England while his narrator roams the countryside.

Akin to the narrative experiments of the German writer W.G. Sebald, it also resembles being buttonholed by a drinker wistfully unburdening a lifetime’s disappointment.

Either way, it exerts a steady power, opening an unexpected conduit into the national psyche.

THE SNOW LINE by Tessa McWatt (Scribe £14.99, 256 pp)

THE SNOW LINE

by Tessa McWatt (Scribe £14.99, 256 pp)

McWatt, based in the UK, is a Guyanese-Canadian writer whose memoir Shame On Me unpicked her experience of mixed-race identity.

Some similar questions resurface in this delicate and ruminative novel that opens in the Punjab in 2008, as four disparate guests jetting in for a wedding find themselves drawn into an improbable relationship.

Central to the storyline is the connection struck up between Reema, a young Londoner cut off from her Indian ancestry, and Jackson, an elderly white widower who lived in the region with his late wife during a peripatetic career as an engineer.

Together, they embark on a Himalayan road trip that leads to some awkward epiphanies, as painful connections emerge between Jackson’s past and Reema’s origins, and we see the blind spots of a man who, despite a lifetime of wandering, has retained a sure sense of self.

A sympathetic and serious-minded exploration of how well-meaning individuals can abet the misery of others.

To buy any book reviewed here, visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193

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