Lost & Found by Elizabeth Garner (Unbound £16.99, 272pp)

Lost & Found

by Elizabeth Garner (Unbound £16.99, 272pp)

The pages of Lost & Found seem lit by a firelight glow and candlelight flicker, as Elizabeth Garner beguilingly retells 15 traditional folk tales.

The settings and the characters are fairytale-familiar — forbidding forests, troublesome crossroads, large castles and small cottages on the edge of nowhere, with wise birds, unexpected changelings, stern stepmothers, unwanted daughters and bold men brimful of bravado. There’s a lovely incantatory rhythm to the telling, whatever the mood or emotion experienced — from mischievous glee in a contest won in The Wits Of The Whetstone, to supernatural unease in The Twisted Oak, to malice aplenty in Little Stupid.

The Exquisite Art Of Getting Even

by Alexander McCall Smith (Polygon £12, 193pp)

The Exquisite Art Of Getting Even by Alexander McCall Smith (Polygon £12, 193pp)

‘Revenge’, says Alexander McCall Smith in his introduction, ‘is nothing to do with ensuring social peace or correcting an imbalance. It is invoked to make the wronged person feel better.’

The wronged people in three of these nimble tales are happy to mete out ‘wild justice’ to the sources of their rage. In Monty, Tiger, Rose, Etc it’s the unapologetic owner of a boisterous dog; in The Principles Of Soap a neat plot twist sees off a nepotistic producer, while in Vengeance Is Mine, a small, moral community take a mafia-style approach to the unapologetic arrival of a gangster on the island of Mull.

The final story provides a sweet coda to previous acts of comeuppance as kindness prevails, pointedly preventing a boorish, best-selling author from getting his just deserts.

by Rebecca Miller (Canongate £14.99, 192pp)

The characters in Total are instantly recognisable — they are privileged, deluged by memories and in situations fraught with anxiety, but Miller manages to offer a fresh perspective on old conundrums.In the opener, Mrs Covet, a harried mother awaiting the birth of her third child, reluctantly accepts help at her judgmental mother-in-law’s behest, with unexpectedly dramatic consequences.

And in She Came To Me, a depressive male author with writer’s block uses an illicit encounter with an American tourist as fuel for his work, even as ‘the fact of his wife made him . . . nearly tearful with relief, as though he had woken from a nightmare to the smell of toast’.

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