NIGHTCRAWLING by Leila Mottley (Bloomsbury £16.99, 288pp)


by Leila Mottley (Bloomsbury £16.99, 288pp) 

Nineteen-year-old poet Leila Mottley has been hailed as the ‘voice of a generation’, a claim that seems less hyperbolic the more you read of her assured, moving and powerful fiction debut. 

Our narrator is 17-year-old Kiara, a black high school dropout in the Californian city of Oakland. With her mother newly released from jail and her elder brother chasing empty dreams of rap stardom, Kiara is constantly looking out for others while struggling herself to get by, and ends up being trafficked into a sex ring run by corrupt police officers. 

Nightcrawling is based on a true story and, as Mottley explains in an afterword, is an attempt to put narrative control into the hands of a survivor. 

But if Kiara’s truth-telling is uncompromising, locating us deep in the pain and turmoil of her existence, her life force is formidable, while her testimony carries a storm-charge that sweeps the reader along. Freighted with sentences of tough lyricism, it feels like an immense achievement. 


by Ottessa Moshfegh (Jonathan Cape £14.99, 320pp) 

Ottessa Moshfegh remains true to form in her much anticipated latest: expect scatology, perversity and stomach-turning gruesomeness, with occasional flashes of brilliance thrown in. 

Here, we find ourselves in the medieval fiefdom of Lapvona, where Marek, the malformed, maltreated teenage son of the village shepherd, seeks comfort in the arms of an ancient, blind wet nurse who understands the language of birds. 

Meanwhile, Lapvona’s cruel, infantile lord, Villiam — who bears more than a passing resemblance to Donald Trump — fiendishly keeps his people in check with the aid of flunkeys, starvation and fear. 

The whole thing is like a lurid Greek tragedy complete with all its accidents, reversals and misapprehensions, only filtered through a particularly trippy nightmare. 

Increasingly, it’s the anticipation of a punch line that pulls the reader through — and I’m not sure what’s served up is worth the rather endurance-testing investment. 

THE WEIGHT OF LOSS by Sally Oliver (Oneworld £16.99, 320pp)


by Sally Oliver (Oneworld £16.99, 320pp) 

Moshfegh is herself a clear influence on this debut, which fails to escape the long shadow cast by her superb My Year Of Rest And Relaxation. 

The death of depressed freelance journalist Marianne’s troubled younger sister has left her deeply traumatised — a trauma that, disturbingly, begins to manifest itself in the growth of unwanted body hair. 

In spite of some misgivings, she signs up to an exclusive experimental health resort that seems to promise a release from the ego — and since when have such things ever ended well? 

Oliver’s debut is deliberately oppressive, although perhaps not — as it is at times — deliberately opaque. 

Much of the novel is spent navigating the thorny thickets of Marianne’s psyche and her family’s emotional enmeshment, which leaves the reader rather drained by the time its belated, bloody denouement (along with some rather heftily dropped-in explanation) finally arrives.

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