This week's bookcase includes reviews of New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, and Jane Austen At Home by Lucy Worsley.

New Boy

Tracy Chevalier

Shakespeare's tragic hero Othello morphs into a 1970s black schoolboy in Tracy Chevallier's reworking of one of the Bard's most powerful plays. The betrayed Moor of Venice becomes Osei, a Ghanaian student who joins a new, all-white school in Washington, DC, and has to navigate the petty bigotries of the playground. This is not the first time Shakespeare has been updated into a school-set tale – Heath Ledger's 10 Things I Hate About You, for example, was a Generation Y retelling of The Taming of The Shrew. Chevalier's backdrop of primary/junior school relationships and the loneliness and challenges of the new student trying to forge friendships strikes a chord even without the additional and pivotal racial backdrop. But ultimately it struggles to convince, and some of the child dialogue feels pretty unconvincing. Ten Things had the benefit of being based on a 16th-century comedy. Othello is a hard, brutal and grown-up drama of love, anger and betrayal that struggles to adequately be portrayed in New Boy.

Men Without Women

Haruki Murakami

Over seven progressively off-kilter short stories, Japanese author Haruki Murakami delves into the subject of loneliness and, in particular, how it impacts on seven men. Among them, there's a widower who finds comfort in his formidable new driver's gear changes; a 30-something reflecting on a friendship at university and a love that wasn't to be; a recent divorcee who sets out on a new path in life; and a plastic surgeon who has an unexpected change in outlook in his middle age. Rooted more in the everyday and less in the surreal than his previous works, each story nevertheless has the same familiar unfamiliarity Murakami does so well. Bearing hallmarks of his earlier stories, there are references to the Beatles, suicide, disappearances, melancholic humour in unexpected places, and a sense the world is ever so slightly off balance across the collection. While this is familiar ground, Murakami still has something to say. And considering he is approaching his 70s, he captures youth with particular aplomb. A solid collection, Men Without Women is a decent entry point to Murakami and a crisp take on love that should please fans.

All That's Left To Tell

Daniel Lowe

This may be a first novel by the US author but he is an experienced writer and it shows in this engrossing tale about a father kidnapped in Pakistan. Marc is restrained in his captivity and prevented from seeing his interrogator, Josephine. At first her inquiries are about who might pay a ransom for him but then she wants to know why he didn't go home for his daughter Claire's funeral after her killing in the US. Our journey winds out from there into a maze of narratives involving characters who may or may not exist. Does it matter any more? We never know or see more than hostage Marc and Josephine as they tell tales of Claire as she was, is, or might have been in a different future, in their different minds. While the premise may seem potentially hard on the emotions and imaginative capabilities, it is not a difficult read. The power of the book lies in Lowe's ability to reveal profound events in a calm and straightforward narrative. Marc's blindfold helps him imagine what he's told and remembers ever more clearly, an effect reflected in our engrossing experience. It is a seductive tale that stays with you, leading us to examine how we make sense of ourselves through our relationships with those most important to us and how we may reckon with them when a life ends.

Jane Austen At Home: A Biography

Lucy Worsley

Jane Austen At Home is not as visual or telly-friendly as you might expect from historian and TV presenter Worsley, but despite dry patches, there is colour in the detail. This biography explores Austen's life and career through the homes and rooms she spent time in, from her childhood abode in the Hampshire countryside at Steventon Rectory, and the cramped, damp houses in Bath and Southampton she was grudgingly forced to live in following her father's retirement, to her last "real" home at Chawton Cottage – now the Jane Austen's House Museum. Worsley reveals not a charmed existence, glittering with balls and Georgian mansions, but one fraught with worry, with Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother becoming strays, at the mercy of Jane's financially secure brothers. Property, a room of one's own, and an income were fundamentals for which Jane was incessantly beholden to others, a fact, that Worsley suggests, gave her the necessary push to become published; after all, she needed the money. The book also scrupulously chisels away at how Austen's family warped and edited her legacy, whitewashing and prettifying her image as they went about destroying her letters. But best of all, we are given glimpses into what daily life was like for Jane - from being annoyed at having no time to write (her hours were often commandeered by her brothers' children and household duties), to overseeing the "intoxicants" (alcohol, tea and sugar) at Chawton Cottage. It leaves you wondering, had Jane's brothers been more amenable, her bank account healthier, or her hand weighed down by a wedding ring and a big old house of her own, whether we would have ever known Lizzie Bennet or Anne Elliot.