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Alison Rumfitt: Tell Me I'm Worthless (Paperback, 2021, Cipher Press) 4 stars

A dark, unflinching haunted house novel that takes readers from the well of the literary …

Horrifying, upsetting and deeply uncomfortable

4 stars

My word, this book does not hold anything back. A horror story centred on the experiences of its characters with a malignant house, it explores trauma and the insidious creep of fascist attitudes, against a backdrop of the ongoing culture war in the UK.

I particularly appreciated the way chapters alternate between the perspectives of Alice, Ila, and the house itself; each cycle taking the reader deeper into their relationships and encounters with each other, ramping up the dread and horror until it spills over.

Having spent many years living in Brighton (where this is set) I was able to picture things more vividly than I ordinarily would have. That said, if there's one aspect that broke me out of the story a bit, it's the references to real-life people and events, which perhaps rooted things too much in the right-here-and-now. But maybe that's necessary for a book which is …

Nadifa Mohamed: The Fortune Men (2021, Penguin) 5 stars

Mahmood Mattan is a fixture in Cardiff's Tiger Bay, 1952, which bustles with Somali and …

The Fortune Men

5 stars

A fictionalised account of the case of Mahmood Matin, a Somali in 1950s Cardiff who was wrongfully accused of a violent crime.

The author writes an evocative depiction of the Tiger Bay area, while avoiding leaning into long descriptions and spurious period detail. Instead, she shows us through her characters the community-of-communities in the docklands, and the tensions that existed within it.

A definite recommend for the general reader - though I found it particularly of interest being from Cardiff myself, and the grandchild of immigrants who came to South Wales because of the shipping industry.

(Listened to the audio version, read well by Hugh Quarshie.)

Sarah Hall, Sarah Hall: Burntcoat (Hardcover, 2021, Custom House) 5 stars

Visceral and sensual

5 stars

This is the first pandemic-era book that I've read - and though the illness in this is not covid-19, its shadow looms very large over proceedings. The story's narrator is Edith, an artist living in an unnamed city during the spread of a disease known as Nova.

The narrative thrust of the story is secondary to the depiction of Edith's relationships - particularly those with her mother, and with her lover during lockdown. The prose is poetic, full of wonderfully unexpected imagery, and - especially as the story nears its end - unshowily devastating.

No reader of this will be surprised to learn that Hall has also edited a collection of stories titled 'Sex & Death': both of these are central to the story her narrator tells us. But more importantly, this is about how calamity permanently shapes those caught up in it, and the act of creation (both artistic, …

Monica Byrne: The Actual Star (Hardcover, 2021, Harper Voyager) 4 stars

The Actual Star takes readers on a journey over two millennia and six continents —telling …

A real achievement

5 stars

This novel alternates between three connected timelines, each separated by 1000 years from the next, each on the cusp of social (and environmental) change.

The future timeline is set in a utopian (though by no means perfect) global nomadic society, organised around principles of mutual aid. It's refreshing to see a vision of how humankind might adapt positively to the challenges facing us, even as some of the fault lines in that vision are exposed over the course of the story.

The other timelines are just as vividly drawn, and feel researched and sensitively written. All three are deftly woven into the greater whole, and I found reading the chapters in blocks (one for each timeline) helped me appreciate the connections being drawn across all three.

This will definitely be going onto my to-reread pile, as I'm sure there's a whole lot that I've missed on my first pass through. …

Alan Garner: Treacle Walker (2021, HarperCollins Publishers Limited) 4 stars

A fusion of myth and folklore, and an exploration of the fluidity of time, vivid …

Short and deep

5 stars

It's been a long time since I read anything by Alan Garner, but this book has all the qualities I remember of his writing: a strong sense of rootedness in landscape and mythology; a style as evocative as it is spare; and a lightness of touch that entices into the story's depths.

All of this amounts to a book that feels instantly timeless - at least for those who, like me, grew up reading stories featuring rag and bone men, marbles and catapults.

I suspect this will open out further for me on a re-reading.

reviewed Network Effect by Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries, #5)

Martha Wells: Network Effect (Paperback, 2021, 4 stars

Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re …

Network Effect

4 stars

Enjoyable, but I got bogged down in the middle for a good while: I suspect I prefer this kind of story at novella length.