THE SELFLESS ACT OF BREATHING by JJ Bola (Dialogue Books £14.99)

THE SELFLESS ACT of Breathing by JJ Bola (Dialogue Books £14.99)


by JJ Bola (Dialogue Books £14.99)

This is JJ Bola’s second novel. It tells the story a young black London schoolteacher Michael Kabongo, who, when we meet him decides to end his own life.

He leaves behind his savings and heads to America vowing to kill himself if he runs out of money. Slowly, we learn what drove him to such despair. It was a stultifying miasma grief for his father; rage; and disaffection.

Bola persuasively renders Michael’s spiralling depression, which — set as it is against the brutality of city life, gang violence and police racism — we understand as a pain larger than his alone.

It’s uncompromising stuff, but injections of precipitous drama — a car-jacking in LA; a doomed love affair in New York — together with unexpected flights of lyricism keep things moving. A brave, emotional novel that offers the possibility of salvation without sacrificing any power.

PEACES by Helen Oyeyemi (Faber £14.99)

PEACES by Helen Oyeyemi (Faber £14.99)


by Helen Oyeyemi (Faber £14.99)

Typically defying summary, Oyeyemi’s addling new confection sees us in the company of non-newlyweds Otto and Xavier Shin as they embark on their non-honeymoon from an unassuming Kent station. Needless to say, the train they board isn’t any old train — boasting a library, sauna and greenhouse, it is also the permanent residence of Ava Kapoor, a reclusive keyboard player.

It’s not so much a merry dance that Oyeyemi orchestrates as a blindfold helter-skelter ride into the dark — part Agatha Christie, part Harry Potter.

Only halfway through, she offers a plot relating to an inheritance that rests on Kapoor’s mental health.

There are thoughts about desire and the relative natures of perception. These thoughts include how we support others with our attention and love or how we deny them due to its lack. But that’s by the by: the main selling point here is, as always, Oyeyemi’s anarchically teeming imagination.

THE GARDENER by Salley Vickers (Viking £16.99)

THE GARDENER by Salley Vickers (Viking £16.99)


by Salley Vickers (Viking £16.99)

Fairy-tale illustrator Arthur Rackham is invoked on the first page of this gentle yarn — knowingly, since narrator Hassie is herself a children’s illustrator, and there’s more than a hint of the storybook about her situation.

Hassie and Margot, Hassie’s high-flying financial sister, decided to sink their inheritance into an Jacobean pile after their father died. Located on the English side of the Welsh Marches, Knight’s Fee is in need of some TLC and, pressingly, a gardener.

Assistance comes in the form of Albanian migrant Murat, but his green shoots don’t match Hassie’s mood as it turns out she is mourning not just her dad, but an ill-advised, ill-fated love affair — one that may yet not be over.

Vickers’s play is set against the backdrop Brexit. It explores themes of pride, prejudice, and the long shadows casts by those who raise us. As illusions and assumptions are exposed, Vickers also explores the themes of prejudice and pride. It’s never less than diverting, but, compared with Vickers’s recent Grandmothers, rather inconsequential. is the best place to buy any book that has been reviewed. Call 020 3176 2937 for more information.