THE STRAYS OF PARIS by Jane Smiley (Mantle £16.99, 272 pp)


by Jane Smiley (Mantle £16.99, 272 pp)

According to its Pulitzer Prize-winning author, this fable was written to provide some much-needed distraction. It succeeds magnificently: this is sunshine in book form.

We begin with Paras, a French racehorse, who wanders one day from the track into the streets of Paris. It’s not long before she meets Frida, an elegant pointer, and Raoul, a portly, polyglot raven.

The trio soon settle down in a city park, and cultivate humans willing to help them. But then they are discovered by young Etienne, who lives alone in a huge house with his ancient great-grandmere.

How long will it be before the authorities catch on and the strays’ liberty is threatened?

The joy of this book is how brilliantly Smiley inhabits her characters’ brains: her horse has simple, horsey thoughts, her dog, deep and doggy ones. Full of sly wit — witness a pair of ducks named Sid and Nancy — it’s ultimately a reminder that wonders can exist right under our noses.


by Neema Shah (Picador £14.99, 352 pp)

In 1972, Idi Amin issued a decree that expelled 80,000 Ugandan Asians from the country. Neema Shah’s debut, which was award-nominated even before it was published, tells the story of one family forced to leave.

The novel opens on the shores of Lake Victoria, where new bride Asha first met her husband, Pran. But on this occasion she finds only the butchered bodies of Amin’s victims. Back in Kampala, soldiers slouch on street corners as looting follows Amin’s expulsion order.

Pran’s mother, Jaya, has already had to make a new life once when she arrived from India. But her belief that she can rebuild again is tested when the already fractured family arrive in Edward Heath’s three-day-week England, while the pair’s fragile marriage suffers further strain.

Shah is excellent on the theme of home, and while her novel is rather episodic, she is nonetheless an absorbing storyteller, one assured enough to pull off an exhilaratingly bold final scene. 

SKIN by Kerry Andrew (Cape £16.99, 368 pp)


by Kerry Andrew (Cape £16.99, 368 pp)

Skin begins like one of those familiar long, hot summer novels, but then morphs into something else entirely — aptly, as it turns out.

It’s the story of Matty, whose Irish father, Joe, mysteriously vanishes in 1985, leaving his Italian wife strangely dry-eyed.

Young Matty’s suspicion is that Joe may have drowned in the Hampstead Men’s Pond, where he was last seen.

But although a quest to locate him fails, Matty does find something else among the welcoming community of swimmers.

Fast forward to 1999, and Matty is living out of a campervan and finding wished-for oblivion in the freezing black water of Ireland’s loughs. But then Matty’s gender-fluid identity provokes a brutal assault, paving the way for a series of twists.

Inspired by myths and folklore, this evocative and sensitive tale is grounded by the authentic complexity of its characters. And while certain revelations come as no surprise, Andrew’s idiosyncratic descriptions are often inspired.

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