Books

LITERARY FICTION

LITERARY FICTION

LOSING THE PLOT by Derek Owusu (Canongate £12.99, 160pp)

LOSING THE PLOT 

by Derek Owusu (Canongate £12.99, 160pp) 

Owusu’s prize-winning debut That Reminds Me was a fragmentary verse novel about the later-life hardships faced by a British-Ghanaian protagonist raised in the care system. 

His unsettling new book, raw and disconcerting, likewise uses a tricky style for a tricky subject, as Owusu seeks to portray his mother’s experience of leaving Ghana for the UK, where he was born. 

Short chapters recount her taxing years as a quick-tempered young parent in a nervy poetic style unafraid to use plenty of untranslated Ghanaian Twi. But there’s also a running commentary in the margins, where Owusu gives us his own take — in chattier vernacular — on the events he’s trying to imagine from her point of view. 

Hardly straightforward, but the divided narrative is a powerful way to evoke the push and pull of a fraught filial relationship in which mutual misunderstanding movingly proves to be a basis of love, by requiring faith — or trust — from both sides. 

IDOL, BURNING 

by Rin Usami (Canongate £14.99, 144pp) 

Alienated womanhood has become a mainstay of Japanese fiction since Sayaka Murata’s sleeper hit, Convenience Store Woman. 

The latest writer to tackle the subject is Rin Usami, 23, who was still at university when she became a runaway bestseller with this bruising parable on the perils of digital-era fandom. 

Akari is in her late teens when Masaki, the boy-band pin-up she is obsessed with, faces an accusation of assault. 

Her first-person narrative (admirably translated by Asa Yoneda) captures the ensuing online frenzy as well as the inner torment of a protagonist whose self-identity is built on hero worship. 

The potent mix of topical satire and psychologically incisive character study deepens into a moving portrait of family strife as Akari grows increasingly withdrawn from her mother and sister. 

But it’s a short book, and ultimately a slight one — a marker laid down by a writer set for bigger things, rather than an apex of achievement. 

LIMBERLOST by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic £14.99, 240pp)

LIMBERLOST 

by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic £14.99, 240pp) 

Up-and-coming Australian author Arnott previously won acclaim for his magic-realist debut Flames, set in his native Tasmania. 

Limberlost, more earthbound in focus, spans decades but turns on the events of a single summer, when teenaged Ned occupies himself trapping rabbits while his older brothers are fighting World War II. 

His accidental capture of a quoll, or tiger cat, sparks an inner turmoil that presages chewy themes of violence and ownership; in later years we see Ned as a successful farmer, quizzed by his university-educated daughters about whether he’ll give up his land as the inadvertent beneficiary of colonial bloodshed. 

It’s clever how the novel continually reframes Ned’s desires to put a perspective on them that he struggles to share. The descriptions of the natural world are wonderfully vivid, too. But the book’s scrambled chronology ultimately seems a ruse for injecting muchneeded drama into what is largely a static narrative of thwarted longing. 

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