"I am animal-mad... There does seem to be a counter-movement now towards recognising they are sentient beings, which is soothing and hopefully signals a better future for all animals at our hand." Lisa Harding
Brenda Navarro: Beyond motherhood

Brenda Navarro: Beyond motherhood

Brenda Navarro’s evocative and powerful novel Empty Houses explores the pain of losing a child, the social impositions of motherhood, and the plight of Mexico’s disappeared and economically disadvantaged. It opens with the voice of a distraught mother whose autistic three-year-old boy Daniel is snatched away from her in a...
Karla Neblett: Angry love

Karla Neblett: Angry love

Karla Neblett’s hugely impressive debut novel King of Rabbits is a vividly realised story about a resourceful, sensitive and imaginative boy from a mixed-race, blended family on a Somerset council estate. Kai’s mum is transitioning from heavy drinking to addiction to crack cocaine, which she is led into by his...
Emma Stonex: Illuminating the dark

Emma Stonex: Illuminating the dark

In 1900, three lighthouse keepers on a Hebridean island disappeared without a trace. The theories surrounding the bizarre and enduring mystery inspired Emma Stonex to reimagine their story with a fictional spin. The Lamplighters is a story of three lighthousemen and the women in their lives, told from the differing...
Lisa Harding: Lost lives found

Lisa Harding: Lost lives found

Sonya, Tommy, Herbie and Marmie. These four characters have embedded themselves into my psyche. The last time I cared so deeply about the fate of fictional creations was with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Where Yanagihara’s doorstopper spanned decades in the lives of four men, Lisa Harding’s blisteringly brilliant novel...
Fiction and climate change

Fiction and climate change

Our dog used to have minor health issues, and so we often had to come up with inventive ways of giving her pills. Many a morning I had a soggy pill spat out in my face, Lumina the dog with her beady eye daring me to try that again. It...
Runaways and free spirits

Runaways and free spirits

“Every landscape needs a figure in it, perhaps especially a figure that is only intermittently visible, that is mysterious and alert,” observes a gardener in Jane Smiley’s The Strays of Paris who spies a beautiful racehorse roaming freely in the middle of the French capital. The racehorse is Paras (short...
Neema Shah: A place called home

Neema Shah: A place called home

If you’re non-white living in a majority white place or indeed a visible or identifiable ‘foreigner’ in a land, the chances are you will have at some point been told to “go back to your own country”. Especially in 1970s Britain. The people who regularly shouted this none-too-friendly command would...
Raven Leilani: In the air tonight

Raven Leilani: In the air tonight

Luster is an original, darkly funny debut about an interracial love triangle, by a new voice with the power to turn modern manners upside down and inside out.  Edie is having online sex with Eric, a man she met on a dating app who messages her with impeccable punctuation –...
Lucy Jago: Making a stink

Lucy Jago: Making a stink

Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes is a captivating story of female friendship and solidarity amid a scandal that rocked the court of James I. It is narrated by 30-something Anne Turner, a doctor’s wife and mother of six with a talent for fashion and a patent for saffron...
All the love in the world

All the love in the world

“It is nice when two people come together in the universe,” Huma Qureshi remembers telling her young son in the opening pages of How We Met. He promptly asks how she and his dad Richard came to be together, and so begins Huma’s story of her quest for married love....
Ellery Lloyd: Cracks in the mirror

Ellery Lloyd: Cracks in the mirror

People Like Her, by husband-and-wife team Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos writing as Ellery Lloyd, is a razor-sharp psychological thriller that picks at the dark edges of our obsession with social media and the peculiar world of online influencers. Emmy Jackson is an Instagram sensation as @the_mamabare, telling the world...
Bryan Washington: Neighbourhoods

Bryan Washington: Neighbourhoods

Bryan Washington’s debut story collection, Lot, a sweeping overview of Houston’s ethnically diverse communities that dips in and out of the life of a gay, mixed-race restaurant worker, was the winner of the 2020 Dylan Thomas Prize and won plaudits from everyone from Ann Patchett and Kiley Reid to Barack...
Rumaan Alam: This is how civilisation ends

Rumaan Alam: This is how civilisation ends

“I woke up this morning and the world already feels safer!” declared a friend on Facebook the day after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris swept to victory in the US election. Hah! Wait till you read Leave the World Behind, I thought, perhaps a little too sceptically, you’ll soon change...
Mannequins and monsters

Mannequins and monsters

Edward Carey’s The Swallowed Man follows the adventures of Pinocchio’s creator Geppetto after he is stranded in the belly of a sea beast. As the woodcarver ekes out a frugal existence, living on his memories and imagination, the tale becomes a magical meditation on fatherly love, loss and regret, and...
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Beowulf and me

Beowulf and me

My love affair with Beowulf began with Grendel’s mother, the moment I encountered her in an illustrated compendium of monsters, a slithery greenish entity standing naked in a swamp, knife in hand. I was about eight, and on the hunt for any sort of woman-warrior. Wonder Woman and She-Ra were fine, but Grendel’s mother was better. She had...
Settlers and shenanigans

Settlers and shenanigans

The nineteenth century was the century of cities. Across the planet, their number and size mushroomed in the biggest urban expansion in history. London’s population grew between 1800 and 1900 from one million to seven million, making it far and away the largest city in the world. Even so, it was in the USA where...
Thrills and chills at the summit

Thrills and chills at the summit

Sarah Pearse’s debut novel The Sanatorium, a Reese’s Book Club pick and an instant Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, is a gripping contemporary gothic thriller about a serial killer on the loose in the Swiss Alps. Detective Sergeant Elin Warner has taken time away from her job after a traumatic case has left...
A symphony of life

A symphony of life

The daughter of a biologist, the wife of a biologist, and the mother of a biologist, it’s safe to say that Kathleen Dean Moore has an affinity for biology, environmentalism specifically, and comes across as a staunch activist concerning the deleterious effects of climate change in her most recent collection of essays Earth’s Wild Music:...
Love in Ramallah

Love in Ramallah

Unlike most other Palestinian cities, Ramallah is a relatively new town, a de facto capital of the West Bank allowed to thrive after the Oslo Peace Accords, but just as quickly hemmed in and suffocated by the Occupation as the Accords have failed. Perched along the top of a mountainous ridge, it plays host to many contradictions:...
The women who save you

The women who save you

The success of a journey depends on your fellow travellers. The poems in Night Feeds and Morning Songs remind me that we are not alone. Women walked and will walk this way, with their babies cocooned in their buggies or bound to their chests, hundreds of years ago, and yesterday, and tomorrow. They have wiped...
Bearing witness

Bearing witness

Before discussing the far-reaching scope of Kim Echlin’s Speak, Silence, and the enormity of the issues it illuminates, let’s zoom in close: amid a tryst in a hotel room at The Hague one evening, a female reporter covering the trial of a Bosnian war criminal prods her companion, the Dutch guard assigned to watch over...
The last hike

The last hike

It was to be their last hike together. They had decided their relationship was over and they were in the kitchen preparing their rucksacks. Family members had been informed that a separation process had begun. Eileen had spoken to two girlfriends about her new lover, Leonard, and Eric had started gathering funds to climb in...
Starting over

Starting over

Kololo Hill by Neema Shah (Picador, 18 February) starts with Idi Amin’s declaration that all Asians must leave Uganda within 90 days. What follows is one family’s fear, sadness and the uprooting of their whole life. Jaya and Motiband moved to Uganda from India and have built up a successful life and business along with...
Bit by bit by bit

Bit by bit by bit

What happened? Everyone asked the question, had been asking since the election. They asked while watching the news, that storm of headlines, jump-cut footage of marches and speeches and hand-sharpied cardboard, an endless, swirling blizzard – a siege, really – of protests and counterprotests, action and reaction, people screaming at one another in the street,...