BOOKS | PREVIEWS & REVIEWS
P H O T O :
M A H T A B H U S S A N
FESTIVAL PAISLEY BOOK FESTIVAL Various venues, Paisley, Thu 20–Sat 29 Feb
Paisley is in for a literary treat as its brand new book festival brings brilliant authors to town. The ten-day bonanza is packed with events reflecting the theme Radical Voices and Rebel Stories, and celebrates Paisley’s contribution to the Radical Wars of 1820 on its 200-year anniversary. Supported as part of Future Paisley, the festival is a timely addition to Scotland’s roster of bookish celebrations. Sarah Stewart, who will be reading from her poetry pamphlet Glisk, says, ‘we've never needed a festival full of grassroots activism and political conversation more’, while Dean Atta, part of the Writing Queer Identities event, reminds us that just because ‘some voices are getting airtime and book deals, that does not mean all the work has been done’.
The opening event, Renfrewshire Rebels, will start the festival as it means to go on, with author Maggie Craig, poet Jim Carruth and singer-songwriter Heir of the Cursed. The wider programme includes plenty of readings and insights from rebellious writers of all stripes, including Jackie Kay, Nikesh Shukla, Hollie McNish, Kirsty Wark and Jenni Fagan.
There will also be a variety of in-depth discussions, such as a panel focusing on access to publishing. Panellist and award-winning writer Ever Dundas promises it will be ‘something to get your teeth into, specifically focusing on disability and chronic illness because they’ve been neglected. And we’re not just playing lip service; we’re all working to make a difference.’ Be part of the change, dance in the aisles at a gig from the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers or raise a glass at the Birthday Bash for John Byrne: Paisley Book Festival has got it all. (Lynsey May)
FAMILY DRAMA JAMI ATTENBERG All This Could Be Yours (Profile Books) ●●●●● CONTEMPORARY DRAMA MARTIN MACINNES Gathering Evidence (Atlantic) ●●●●●
HISTORICAL FICTION MAAZA MENGISTE The Shadow King (Canongate) ●●●●●
Jami Attenberg’s seventh novel invites us into the aftermath of a family that’s already unravelled. Victor Tuchman, a criminal and womaniser who never quite had to face the music, is in a coma following a heart attack. His wife and adult children are left with a multitude of unresolved questions.
Some people have a power and a presence that seems to defy all sensibility, and here Attenberg examines the prevalent cultural anomaly that allows large and unpleasant characters to dominate the world around them as they receive undeserved love and adoration. Everything is already too late for Tuchman, and there’s no space for him to explain himself. And what a relief, given this era’s excuses, rebuttals and insincere confessions.
As Victor dies, we dive deeply into the lives of his wife and children. Barbara, obsessed with tracking her daily steps, is silent when it comes to her husband’s indiscretions. Daughter Alex, a bitingly empathetic character, is desperate to know the truth, while brother Gary stays away, digesting more honesty than he ever wanted.
Attenberg effortlessly swoops between points of view to hone in on the moments that best display people as they are, their travails recorded with a satisfyingly empathetic brusqueness. The novel is a paean to self-protection, hope, and the hard truth that in relationships, even familial ones, ‘sometimes love only works one way’. (Lynsey May) ■ Out Thu 5 Mar.
58 THE LIST 1 Feb–31 Mar 2020
Martin MacInnes’ second novel starts with a neat but predictable sci-fi story about an addictive app which takes over the world. Thankfully, the Inverness- born author is just warming up. From the second section onwards, Gathering Evidence is every bit as disconcertingly engrossing as its acclaimed predecessor, Infinite Ground. Shel and John are a young couple making a life
together. Shel is a scientist on an extended research trip, studying one of the last living troops of bonobo chimpanzees, in a national park controlled by an authoritarian corporation. Soon after she leaves, John, a coder, suffers an accident. He awakes in their home with no memory, and all communication is denied to him by a sinister doctor.
Shel and John face urgent, parallel projects: hers
is to gather understanding, his to recover it. The characters, like MacInnes’ prose, are sometimes obsessively insistent, sometimes forensically patient. The book makes a conspiracy theorist of the reader, sending them scavenging across the pages for clues and cyphers. Gathering Evidence sits comfortably alongside peers such as Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World as a superbly current novel of 21st- century pattern recognition, portraying a world where digital advancement and environmental devastation might be the same thing. (Aran Ward Sell) ■ Out Thu 6 Feb.
For her second novel, The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste depicts a subject matter unfamiliar to any British schoolchildren who studied history. Set during Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, it puts the spotlight on the women soldiers who were written out of African history.
Centred around an orphan named Hirut, we are introduced to the girl as she tries adjusting to a tough new life as the maid to Kidane (an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army) and his wife Aster. But when the war begins, Hirut and Aster are forced to team together with other women to help in Ethiopia’s fight against Mussolini’s colonisers.
The novel shifts from multiple perspectives, allowing its readers to be in the heads of the enemies and our heroes, creating an epic, lyrical and often contradictory account of war. Mengiste’s inspiration from myth is palpable throughout and sections entitled simply as ‘chorus’ provide a collective voice on the narrative, as they do in Greek tragedies. Although it has been described in its publicity
campaign as ‘unputdownable’, it cannot truly be described as such: the multiple changing viewpoints and way in which it so starkly portrays violence may compel the reader to have a few moments away. However, the beauty of Mengiste’s words makes you come back to the author and her women soldiers until the end. (Katharine Gemmell) ■ Out now.