The title of this hefty, elliptical, 1970s, Delhi-set saga plays on the (now re‑named) Fair & Lovely brand of skin-lightening cream
FEAR AND LOVELY
by Anjana Appachana (Verve £19.99, 544 pp)
The title of this hefty, elliptical, 1970s, Delhi-set saga plays on the (now re‑named) Fair & Lovely brand of skin-lightening cream.
Nineteen-year-old Mallika is ‘little-darker-than-wheat’-complexioned.
But more problematic for her all-important marriage prospects is her crippling shyness.
The biggest impediment of all, however, is the breakdown she has recently suffered, mental illness being so taboo that her mother passes it off as TB.
The trauma that incapacitates Mallika and robs her of her memory is gradually revealed, but the twist is the different angles we see it from as the narrative alternates between the perspectives of those closest to her —all of whom have secrets and struggles of their own.
THE HERO OF THIS BOOK
by Elizabeth McCracken (Cape £12.99, 192 pp)
McCracken’s fictionalised memoir features a middle-aged American woman wandering around London in the summer of 2019. As the narrator tells us, it’s not much of a plot. What we get instead is a character study — two of them, in fact.
Our narrator is, at times, her own subject: a successful writer, she parses the course of her career and her craft. But the real hero of her story is her recently dead octogenarian mother, a remarkable woman whose cerebral palsy and stubborn, sunny nature were two sides of the same coin.
Light of touch, witty and altogether less chilly than Rachel Cusk’s autofiction, McCracken — and her avatar —nonetheless raise all kinds of chewy questions about truth, fiction and where to draw the boundaries of the imagination, both in life and prose. Human personalities, we are firmly told, are not puzzles to be solved.
But the best, most deeply moving bits of this novel are the least tricksy, such as when the narrator reflects on the simple sorrow of never again buying her mother a gift.
Best known for his Soviet Union-set blockbuster Child 44, Tom Rob Smith, also a screenwriter, here offers up a cinematic epic of global cataclysm and extraterrestrials
by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster £16.99, 464 pp)
Best known for his Soviet Union-set blockbuster Child 44, Tom Rob Smith, also a screenwriter, here offers up a cinematic epic of global cataclysm and extraterrestrials.
Not that the aliens — the ones from space, at least — play anything other than a catalytic role, their sole, unexplained aim simply to exile the remnants of humankind to the South Pole.
What really interests Rob Smith is how the survivors adapt to their freezing home: the make-do-and-mend existence of everyday folk in a world without modern technology, and the vaunting ambition of scientists attempting to create a new, genetically engineered race of ‘ice‑adapted’ people.
Predictably, it soon becomes clear that these egghead-bred monsters are far more dangerous than any space invader.
Themes of love, family and belonging are writ large, but the vast body count and emotive dilemmas fail to move. It’s the spectacular world-building, and creature-building, of the novel that’s most absorbing — and, I suspect, the part the author enjoyed best.
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