WHEREABOUTS by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury £14.99, 176 pp)


by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury £14.99, 176 pp)

The unmanned protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri’s slender Italian novel is a 40-something professor, living in an unnamed European city, who describes her melancholy, meandering thoughts in 46 short, sharply observed chapters.

Restless, marked by an unhappy childhood and rootless despite never having lived in another city, she wanders the streets of her hometown visiting cafes, stationery shops, bars and the beach, musing on her past and wondering about her future. She has friends, lovers and a crush on a married man.

In a more dramatic novel, this mutual frisson of attraction would provoke conflict and confusion but, here, like so much else in the narrator’s life, the spark fizzles out, unable to survive the narrator’s enervated scrutiny.

Fundamentally lonely and occasionally depressed, the narrator is at a crossroads, pondering the borders of her life and the possibilities of change as she gets ready to leave her old home to head to a new country, a new way of being.

Whereabouts is a beautifully poised exploration of an interior life, but the narrators’ emotional distance creates a chilly reserve, a certain off-putting emptiness, despite the elegance of Lahiri’s prose.

THE MELTING By Lize Spit (Picador £14.99, 416 pp)


By Lize Spit (Picador £14.99, 416 pp)

Lize Spit’s international best-selling Dutch debut is beyond bleak. It’s a coming-of-age tale, set in a small Flemish town, which explores the legacy of sexual abuse in adolescence, and the on-going damage that such violation leaves in its wake.

Eva, the narrator, is heading home, 13 years after the traumatic events that have left her emotionally scarred.

Fuelled by the memories of the awful summer where everything spiralled out of control, and intent on exacting a chilling revenge on the boys that were once her closest friends, she’s hefted a large block of ice into the boot of her car, whose mysterious purpose is slowly revealed over the course of this disturbing, overly long novel.

It’s a hard read — Eva’s life is unrelentingly awful, her neglectful parents’ marriage is in tatters, her little sister, Tessa, is troubled, and tomboy Eva is unprepared for the way her burgeoning sexuality changes her relationship with her friends in the most abusive way possible.

Shot through with cruelty and corrosive violence, and driven by ever-escalating tension, Spit shocks and saddens with her brutal portrayal of bullying and its aftermath.

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