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Sugar coating hides sharp taste of life in a patriarchy

Sister acts: Nadiya Hussain is back with the Amir family PICTURE: REX

The Fall And Rise Of The Amir Sisters

by Nadiya Hussain (Harper Collins) ★★★✩✩

IF YOU want proof that British fiction has a serious diversity problem then look no further than the poster girl for modern multicultural Britain, Nadiya Hussain, whose latest book is a rare example of a mainstream novel about Muslim women.

Either few people are writing such novels or the industry will only countenance publishing them if they are written by a famous Muslim. Make that ghostwritten: Hussain’s second novel about the four affectionately querulous Amir sisters whose parents live in a small English village is, like the first, written in collaboration with Ayisha Malik.

Perhaps we can forgive Hussain this since The Fall And Rise Of The Amir Sisters is a fluffy but plucky novel that sneaks in some tough-hitting questions about the challenges facing ambitious young Muslim women in a culture still very much defined by patriarchal expectation.

Motherhood and family are its ostensible subjects. Newly married Fatima is pregnant, much to the dismay of her sister, Farah, who after ten years of trying still hasn’t conceived. Farah’s twin, Bubblee, meanwhile, miserably can’t understand why her family won’t accept that she doesn’t ever want to marry.

Yet despite its seeming endorsement of motherhood, in an odd way the book is also a feminist manifesto — not only are the husbands either marginal or disastrously ineffectual but, as the plot proceeds, Hussain slyly suggests that, whatever their definition of happiness and fulfilment, women these days barely need men at all.

All of this is entertainingly if unevenly explored through the intersecting lives of the sisters and their sex-starved mother, who emerges as a riotous comic figure in her own right.

It’s not a brilliantly written novel but given the deplorable lack of voices like Hussain’s, it’s hard to argue hers is not a valuable one.

The verdict

This breezily written novel’s outwardly lightweight tone belies its frequent forays into more serious subject matter. CLAIRE ALLFREE

Dream Sequence

by Adam Foulds (Cape) ★★★★✩

DESPITE being a serial prize-winner Adam Foulds isn’t yet a household name, perhaps because he’s so unpredictable. After novels about Victorian poetry and wartime Sicily, who guessed he would write this pacy stalker drama set in present-day London?

Henry is a TV actor longing for artistic cachet; Kristin is his super fan, a divorcee whose obsession turns delusional.

Foulds sends up both so slyly it’s possible to root for either, whether it’s Henry getting up to no good at a VIP bash or Kristin crossing the Atlantic for his last night as Hamlet. If she’s short-changed by the thunderclap finale, maybe that’s the point of this live-wire exploration of sex and power. ANTHONY CUMMINS

The Redeemed

by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury) ★★★★✩

IT’S apt that a trilogy of novels so steeped in the rhythms of the seasons should be published each midwinter. Tim Pears’s West Country series began with 2017’s The Horseman, continued with last year’s The Wanderers and concludes with The Redeemed.

Leo and Lottie are respectively embroiled in World War I and a struggle to be taken seriously by the male-dominated profession of veterinary surgery. While a love story set in the rural life of the early 20th century could have been schlocky, Pears’s detail of the period’s cadences, refusal to rush things and undervalued knack for a satisfying narrative twist steer us from sentimental waters towards masterpiece territory. PAUL CONNOLLY