1. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
Natsuki’s extra-terrestrial backstory is an effective allegory for the alienation that she feels from her family but the trauma she experiences at school only embeds her own myth even deeper.
2. Red Pill by Hari Kunzru
‘Plot is the artificial reduction of life’s complexity and randomness. It is a way to give aesthetic form to reality’
The cult of Heinrich von Kleist looms large on the shores of Lake Wannsee as the narrator obsesses over tiny distractions that prevent him from focusing on work to the extent that his own reality becomes compromised.
Themes of surveillance, privacy and Alt-right conspiracy theories are bound up in one man’s experience on a writing fellowship at the enigmatic Deuter Centre. A clever take on the mid-life crisis novel that couldn’t be more relevant in 2020.
3. We’ll call you by Jacob Sundberg
9 short stories, each based on a job interview, unite to expose the unconscious bias, the indifference and the downright snobbery that sits behind the personas we create at work.
The anxiety of living in the right area of Stockholm or of understanding the ‘symmetry, balance and harmony’ in Nordic design are uniquely Swedish dilemmas but the novel equally reveals universal themes; irrecoverable dreams, unrealised talents and isolation. Equally revealing and enjoyable. Perfect weekend read
4. Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri
If the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 showcased the modernity of post-war Japan to the world what can we understand of Tokyo 2021? Yu Miri has a view in the story of Kazu who sleeps rough in the city’s Ueno Park.
Kazu’s life follows that of the Emperor’s family yet the comparisons couldn’t be further apart as Miri holds up a mirror to society. Challenging, critical and seeking to shine a light on issues under explored in literature this is powerful stuff.
5. Moonstone: The Boy who Never Was by Sjon
For a slim novel Sjon packs a mighty punch! As Iceland is gripped by the threat of Spanish Flu in 1918 one boy escapes to a fantasy world within Reykjavik’s two new cinemas. Mani’s plight is so personal yet ‘Moonstone’ is a screen itself onto which readers project themselves
Themes of fear, isolation and the need to escape are startlingly relevant today and delivered with real intensity in precise but elegant prose. Mani is a character you can’t forget and his place as a real outsider feels distinctly contemporary.
All reviews independent and books paid for :)