The Man Who Was George Smiley by Michael Jago (Biteback, £9.99)

Even if he hadn’t been the model for John Le Carré’s spymaster, John Bingham would have made a worthy candidate for a biography. “Unglamorous, stocky … taciturn, a patient listener”, Bingham was, in Jago’s estimation, “one of the true craftsmen of espionage”. He was born into a formerly grand Anglo-Irish dynasty which was falling into terminal decline, his cash-strapped parents deprived of all but the most basic allowance by a steely matriarch and mainly leaving their son to fend for himself. Jago shows how Bingham emerged from a solitary aristocratic background with an uncommon degree of compassion and psychological insight which served him well both in MI5 and as the author of 18 thrillers. He was nevertheless left in the shade by his protégé Le Carré, whose cynical portrayal of MI5 Bingham refused to accept. More accounts of clandestine operations would have been welcome, but this is a very readable, well-rounded view of the life and times of a notable figure.

Echoland by Per Petterson (Vintage, £8.99)

Loading article content

Although this is the eighth Petterson novel to be translated into English, Echoland was only his second book, published way back in 1989. It’s about Arvid, a 12-year-old Norwegian boy whose Italian ancestry encourages his habit of self-mythologising. In the period covered by this novel, a family holiday to his grandparents’ home in Denmark, he’s at the stage where he wants to break some of the parental ties and establish himself as an individual. Although he’s surrounded by unresolved domestic issues, Arvid is too self-absorbed to appreciate what the other members of his family are going through. He’s not easy to like, and even when fishing with his friend Morgens, cuts quite an insular figure. It’s an allusive book, with so much of what’s really driving its characters remaining unspoken and hidden in the shadows. As an early work, it shows signs of the author Petterson would become, but for all the promise on display Echoland doesn’t fully deliver.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Oneworld, £8.99)

Woodson is well known as a prolific author of young adult fiction, and Another Brooklyn does focus on the friendship between four teenage girls, but it’s told from the perspective of August, an older, well-travelled woman, imbuing her story with additional layers of depth and nuance. At eight years old, she and her brother were taken by her father from their Tennessee farm to Brooklyn. Her mother didn’t come with them, and August’s life has partly been defined by the absence of her mother ever since. We see her in early-1970s New York, bonding with Sylvia, Angela and Gigi, and despite all they have to endure, including the attentions of predatory males and a seemingly inevitable betrayal, the friendship, beauty and strength of these young African-American girls shines through. August makes the distinction that her story is about memory rather than about the events themselves, so it’s an impressionistic narrative, told in prose that’s spare but always with an underlying poetry.