MY MONTICELLO by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Harvill Secker £12.99, 192 pp)

MY MONTICELLO by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Harvill Secker £12.99, 192 pp)


by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Harvill Secker £12.99, 192 pp)

This fine debut is by a young American author. It begins with the 2017 Charlottesville marches, where white militants carried burning torch through black communities.

It’s narrated by Da’Naisha Love, a student who, after an attack on her street, has taken refuge with her mostly brown and black neighbours and her white boyfriend in a grand house on the hill where Thomas Jefferson once lived.

Yet Da’Naisha is also his descendant, the product of Jefferson’s documented affair with his slave Sally Hemings. Her complicated relationship to her refuge informs this tenderly rendered apocalyptic novella which largely jettisons dramatic set pieces for compassionate ruminations on America’s fraught relationship between race and land.

The group begins to hunker down, rationing food and becoming more vulnerable. Johnson is an unusually sensitive writer who combines a feeling of imminent doom with language of deep beauty.

THE WOMAN FROM URUGUAY by Pedro Mairal (Bloomsbury £12.99, 160 pp)

THE WOMAN FROM URUGUAY by Pedro Mairal (Bloomsbury £12.99, 160 pp)


by Pedro Mairal (Bloomsbury £12.99, 160 pp)

Protagonists such as the narrator of Pedro Mairal’s novel are a maligned breed in contemporary fiction: being male, self-obsessed, sex-obsessed and invariably having a mid-life crisis.

Pereyra is a struggling writer who has devised a scheme to cross into Uruguay to withdraw a loan from his bank account and avoid paying Argentine taxes.

He is also hoping to see a Uruguayan woman he can’t stop thinking about. So begins a bitter comic caper in which it’s scarcely a spoiler to say things don’t go to plan.

Pereyra wants his wife to be financially supported, but he is also desperate to repay her.

It’s a stingingly anti-romantic book. ‘I guess the idea of family has changed,’ says a very much alone Pereyra in the final pages. ‘Now it’s kind of like those little interlocking bricks. Everybody puts them together as best they can.’

DOG PARK by Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic £14.99, 368pp)

DOG PARK by Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic £14.99, 368pp)


by Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic £14.99, 368pp)

A novel that opens with an attractive woman gazing at a happy couple in a park may suggest a common-or–garden domestic noir about the complicated psychology of motherhood. But there is nothing average about this knotty thriller from Finnish author Sofi Oksanen, whose 2010 best-seller Purge set a story about sex trafficking against Europe’s brutal history of Soviet occupation.

She’s in similar territory here with a densely plotted story narrated by Olenka, a Ukrainian woman who has freed herself from poverty by being involved with a lucrative fertility firm.

Olenka left Ukraine in 2010 to go to Finland with a former colleague. Olenka is now at risk due to reasons that are tangled up in post-Soviet politics, but which, thanks a slippery, backtrack narrative, have only slowly become evident.

It is a dark horror story about egg donation and the black market that keeps the reader balancing frustration and fascination.

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