by Leïla Slimani (Faber) ★★★★✩
MOROCCAN writer Leïla Slimani gave us the creeps last year with Lullaby, her novel about a downtrodden nanny murdering two middle-class children in her care. Probing issues around parenting, race and social inequality, it set book clubs ablaze. Adèle, Slimani’s latest novel to be translated from French, is sure to follow suit.
Set in Paris late in 2010, it follows a doctor’s wife whose sex addiction lands her in strife at home and at work, where she’s a newspaper journalist specialising in North Africa. Carrying a secret phone with an all-male contacts list, her risk-taking runs from overdoing it at the office party to random sex with strangers, to — most damaging of all — after-hours liaisons with her husband’s friend.
Oozing menace and tawdry detail, this briskly told story sits well amid the never-ending vogue for psychological thrillers, which is how Slimani has been marketed. Yet, ultimately, the drama of the novel turns less on Adèle’s inevitable exposure than on her inability, or refusal, to abide by expectations.
Married with a child and a coveted job, she seems to have it all. Yet her career fails to stir her, even when the Arab Spring kicks off. Nor is she sold on motherhood, having come to terms with it ‘like a cancer patient finally accepting the necessity of chemotherapy’.
In the end, that scathing turn of phrase is what most holds your attention. Slimani’s gift isn’t for twisty plots but razor-edged social satire bordering on cruelty as she brews a heady nightmare vision from the platitudinous advice given to women about sex, work and family life. ANTHONY CUMMINS
A sordid, scorching 21st-century reboot of Madame Bovary,
On The Come Up
by Angie Thomas (Walker) ★★★★✩
ANGIE THOMAS’S 2017 YA debut, The Hate U Give, is a hard act to follow — it’s already sold over two million copies and had a hit film adaptation — but her second book more than lives up to the first.
Sixteen-year-old Brianna wants to be a world-class rapper but times are hard at home. Bri’s dad, an underground hip-hop legend, was murdered years ago and the grief drove her mum to addiction. Now her mother is clean but money is tight — and when Bri falls foul of racist high-school security, she finds herself pilloried online as a ‘ghetto girl’ bragging about gang life.
As her family faces eviction, can Bri avoid becoming what she’s been called and resist the need to earn big at the cost of her own integrity?
Passionate and powerful, On The Come Up is a call to the silenced: find your voice, stay true and make some noise. IMOGEN RUSSELL WILLIAMS
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper (Little, Brown) ★★★★✩
JANE HARPER certainly nails the Australian Outback — you can feel the heat come off the page in waves. The Lost Man, her first standalone mystery since the triumph of The Dry and its patchy follow-up, Force Of Nature, drops you straight into the semi-desert of a vast cattle ranch half the size of Wales.
One of the ranchers, Cameron, has been found dead in odd circumstances — his brothers, Bub and Nathan, are bereft and baffled. Why was he out wandering alone in that remorseless heat? Why had he abandoned his car?
Harper’s crisp, evocative writing expertly reveals the secrets that have been festering too long in the scorching Australian sun. PAUL CONNOLLY
Book Chat: Get involved
OUR Metro Book Chat podcast, available on Entale, iTunes and other podcasting platforms, is the perfect listen for your commute. This week we’re catching up with author Sarah Moss to talk about her hit new novel, the dark and subtle Ghost Wall.