Samuel Fisher

(Salt, £9.99)

As a bibliophile who runs an independent bookshop in East London, Samuel Fisher is just the kind of person who might write a novel like The Chameleon. He does, though, look improbably young, like Daniel Radcliffe on a day off from filming the final Harry Potter movie, to be penning a story about a sentient 800-year-old book that’s still mooching on about the Cold War.

The Chameleon is one of the more offbeat love stories you’ll read this year. The book is, in fact, its own narrator, having become self-aware centuries ago and passing through numerous hands in the course of its existence.

Its relationship with retired intelligence officer Roger, however, has marked a new phase in its life. It’s been making much more of an effort to understand and empathise with humans, and its time with Roger is that bit more special than with its previous owners.

But now Roger is dying, and the book (it decided to call itself “John” at one point, but frankly the name doesn’t resonate) watches mutely from the shelf as the old man takes his final breaths after a series of strokes, attended by his daughter, Ruth, and granddaughter, Jessica, both of whom the book has watched growing up.

Thanks to its miraculous ability to change its form into any book it pleases, or even to metamorphose into magazines or newspapers (though it’s seen at first hand the risks that turning into a newspaper can entail), “John” has been able to accompany Roger to places a static, unchanging volume never could.

It’s been present at many important points of his personal life, such as his courtship of wife-to-be Margery and the birth of their daughter. It’s seen how his postings abroad got their marriage off to a bumpy start. But there’s a chapter of its owner’s professional career that preoccupies the book as much as it has haunted Roger.

Recruited by the intelligence services in the 1950s, Roger was posted to the USSR, a period of his life forever tainted by the public murder, right before his eyes, of an important contact in the Soviet military. That murder, and other related events, had an ineradicable impact on Roger’s life, and the book, which had been passed from hand to hand for centuries, discovered previously unknown reserves of compassion for him.

The concept of a self-aware book is the kind of literary conceit that, in the wrong hands, could lead to the worst excesses of post-modern fiction. The book does, after all, identify with Borges’ tale of the infinite library as though it’s “an autobiography written by a future version of myself”. Roger’s story, in turn, is essentially quite a slight vignette that would struggle to fill a novel on its own.

But by marrying them together, Fisher balances and intermingles the two strands so that they sustain an engrossing, satisfying and quite touching novel. Greater love hath no book than that it would transform itself into a biography of its most cherished owner.