This week's bookcase includes reviews of Booker winner Howard Jacobson's satire on Donald Trump, Pussy; The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir; White Tears by Hari Kunzru and Ithaca by Alan McMonagle


Howard Jacobson

Word has it that Jacobson, Booker-winning author of The Finkler Question and Coming From Behind, was so infuriated by the rise of Donald Trump that he abandoned his current book project and rose at dawn every day for weeks to rush out this short, angry book. In common with many a classic satire, Pussy is written as a fable. It tells the story of one Prince Fracassus, heir presumptive to the Duchy of Origen, a land of casinos and gilded skyscrapers. Fracassus is a spoilt lonely child, who spends his time watching reality TV and fantasising about prostitutes. He has no knowledge of the world, no compassion, no ideas, yet somehow, groomed by his cynical father and a bevvy of opportunistic advisers, he emerges as a populist force on a promise to make his country great again. "By virtue of the family he came from, the title he held and the size of his property portfolio, he lent centrality to opinions hitherto only heard on the lips of disreputables and drunks." It's all great fun - especially spotting the many thinly disguised real-life figures who feature, from Farage to Putin - and no doubt it felt good to get all that off the chest too. Jacobson is very good on the nuances of the Trump phenomenon, both in terms of what's alarming about it and why it has struck such a resonant chord. And even if his book is unlikely to topple any governments, it may at least - as its author hopes - spread comfort in some quarters, and vexation in others.

The Legacy

Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Legacy is the first in a new crime series from Yrsa Sigurdardottir, author of the Thora Gudmundsdottir books. Newly promoted, out-of-his-depth detective Huldar is struggling to solve the murder of Elisa. The only witness is her seven-year-old daughter Margret, who was hiding under the bed when the killer struck. But she's traumatised and won't say anything. Freyja, a psychologist from the Children's House, is called in to help. The killer is leaving strange clues in the form of cryptic text messages and strings of random numbers. Can they keep Margret safe and crack the code before he strikes again? This is another tour de force from Sigurdardottir and is sure to cement her reputation as the queen of Nordic noir. Her writing is evocative and fraught as she skilfully ratchets up the tension and fear. A cracking read that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

White Tears

Hari Kunzru

If White Tears was a car, it would be a high-performance sports coupe dragging a fully laden lorry, its wheels billowing smoke as it struggles to make any headway. Hari Kunzru's tale of white appropriation of black music in the US, that develops into a ghost story linked to Depression-era racism, is beautifully vivid, with the author making the bleakest scenes fizz with life (and death). But this expert literary scene painting is married to a disappointingly obvious storyline: privileged young white musicians (one of them stinking rich) who are searching for "authenticity", in this case in the obscure world of 1930s Delta blues. The paranormal element of this "ghost story" is well done, but not chilling, if that's what you want. A story about cultural identity is very much on trend, but White Tears doesn't quite nail it.


Alan McMonagle

Jason Lowry is 11, living in a small Irish town during the 2009 recession, and spending a misspent summer with a strange girl who daydreams herself on trips to Ancient Greece and Egypt. Ostensibly, the boy is trying to find out the name of his father from his heavy-drinking, negligent mother - but has to tackle the alluring threats of petty crime, underage sex and self-harm with his newfound accomplice. This debut coming-of-age novel from Galway-based writer McMonagle cleverly deals with topics that are far too adult for Jason to fully comprehend, despite the boy's zinging observations of the town's residents. It could easily be bleak, but McMonagle's dark humour, wry one-liners and direct descriptions of Irish people - possibly honed during his two collections of short stories - makes the children's search for Ithaca oscillate from appalling to heartbreaking. Comparisons to The Butcher Boy by Pat McCabe are inevitable and despite Jason's recklessnes, it's hard not to be on his side.