The Forest of Wool and Steel

Natsu Miyashita

Black Swan, £8.99

At his village school in the mountains of Hokkaido, 17-year-old Tomura is transfixed by the sound of a piano being tuned, its sonorous resonance connecting him spiritually with the surrounding forest. The experience changes his life, convincing him that his destiny is to become a piano tuner. After a two-year course, he returns home to become an apprentice to Mr Itadori, and begins to pursue his obsessive personal quest for perfection under the tutelage of three master tuners, while battling his fears that he doesn’t have what it takes to achieve it. Translated by Philip Gabriel, who also does the honours for Murakami, this serene and magical novel sold over a million copies in Japan and has been made into a film, which hopefully captures the slow, meditative pace of the book as Tomura finds his path through life, music and nature with the assistance of some strong supporting characters and the nuanced wisdom of his teachers.

The Lost Decade

Polly Toynbee & David Walker

Guardian/Faber, £10.99

“We should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have lived through,” said the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Quite so. The bleak aftermath of the global financial crash, 2010-2020 has distinguished itself as a decade of wasted time, missed opportunities, irresponsibility and the crazed pursuit of the unattainable. Since the Conservative Party has been in power all that time, it gets the lion’s share of Toynbee and Walker’s critical survey of the past decade. The authors run through all the symptoms of a country in unambiguous decline, from the stagnation of wages to the delusions and contradictions of Brexit, and however much political commentary you’ve read over the past few years there will almost certainly be fresh angles and insights here that contribute to the bigger picture. It’s an angry book, of course, but only the most dogmatic would argue that their rage and frustration is without foundation.

Swim Until You Can't See Land

Catriona Child

Luath Press, £8.99

A former competitive swimmer in her early twenties, Hannah Wright feels like her life has lost all meaning since her career was cut short by a shoulder injury. Now working in a shop, Hannah is

alarmed when an old lady passes out and cracks her head on the counter, and she goes out of her way to return her purse (and a winning lottery ticket). Unknown to Hannah, the old lady is Marièle Downie, a British undercover agent posted in France during World War II who was tortured by the Gestapo. Hannah’s efforts to somehow get closer to this intriguing pensioner run in parallel with the story of Marièle’s recruitment and training by the SOE after her brother is killed in action, and the doomed campaign with the Resistance which leads to her capture and interrogation. Their two very different lives have only the most tenuous connection, but each strand complements the other to compelling effect, both featuring contrasting and well-defined characters.