Evening In Paradise

Lucia Berlin

Picador, £9.99

Following on from the publication of A Manual for Cleaning Women, the posthumous collection of short stories that alerted a new generation of readers to the brilliance of Lucia Berlin, comes this second volume, comprising 22 stories that didn’t make it into the earlier book. Berlin has been likened to Raymond Carver and Anton Chekhov, so rest assured that these are anything but second-rate leftovers, and only cement her reputation as a master of the short story. She spent her childhood in mining towns, later enjoying a glittering high society life in Chile, and her experience of such contrasting ways of life, and subsequently raising a family while battling alcoholism and suffering from scoliosis, might go some way to accounting for her observant, insightful and compassionate eye. In these stories, she finds darkness and light, beauty and sadness in the lives of ordinary women in 20th Century America, illuminating her flawed but sympathetic characters with sudden bursts of light and colour.

Walls

David Frye

Faber & Faber, £10.99

It’s obvious once it’s been pointed out, but we can learn an awful lot about history from walls. Frye, a Connecticut-based historian, begins his history of division and enclosure 4000 years ago with the Great Wall of Shulgi in ancient Mesopotamia, built to keep out marauders, and covers all the favourites, like Hadrian’s, China’s and Berlin’s, along with plenty you’ve never heard of. The subject matter sounds rather grim and forbidding, but Frye points out that walls have created the peace and security which allowed societies to flourish. They have helped shape the people they protected and, as he illustrates here, could have a wide geo-political impact. But he acknowledges the dark side too, dubbing our present era the Second Age of Walls and drawing attention to the unprecedented number of barriers already built or under construction. Fascinating and extensively researched, it’s a timely reminder that the world, from gated communities to national borders, is increasingly fencing itself off.

A Map Of The Sky

Claire Wong

Lion Hudson, £7.99

Eleven-year-old Kit is confused when his family suddenly ups sticks and moves from London to a coastal village near Scarborough and his dad hasn’t come with them. In their temporary lodgings of Askfeld Guest House, he gets to know his new neighbours, including the co-owner Beth, who is pregnant and suffering from a chronic illness that confines her to the house. Beth wants to make a map showing all of her favourite childhood haunts, but her memory is foggy, so Kit offers to help her out. Inspired by his reading of Greek myths and tales of King Arthur, Kit feels that he’s on a quest, and that somehow he’ll be able to put things to rights again. But what’s going on in the adult world around him is beyond his understanding. Wong’s second novel is a thoughtful representation of how complex realities are perceived and interpreted by children, with some atmospheric writing evoking the Northern landscape.