Finer Things

David Wharton

Sandstone, £7.99

It’s 1962 and middle-class Yorkshire girl Tess gets a place in a London art school. Eager to reinvent herself as a bohemian, she visits a sleazy Soho club where she encounters Delia, a 38-year-old “hoister” who shoplifts from posh department stores for a gang. Delia has been instructed by her boss (loosely based on real-life gang leader Alice Diamond) to gather information on the father of one of Tess’s friends, playwright Bill Shearsby, a former Angry Young Man who now supports the Anti-Apartheid Movement, to be passed on to powerful gangsters the Richardsons. Wharton’s debut novel thrives on strong characters and a vivid recreation of the times as he follows two very different women exploring the options open to them as the first seeds of Swinging London take root in the early sixties, Tess juggling her fascination with Delia and her friendship with a gay fellow student, while Delia herself has to reckon with the judgement of an unforgiving criminal underworld.


In Miniature

Simon Garfield

Canongate, £9.99

As children, Garfield says, tiny replicas of larger things capture our imaginations because they “invest us with a rare power at a young age, conferring the potency of adults, and possibly giants”, and this fascination is hard to shake off as we grow up. Here, he flits between model villages, architectural maquettes, Frances Glessner Lee’s murder dioramas and Neil Young’s model railway obsession, examining “how the miniature world informs the world at large”, perhaps rendering the larger version more comprehensible because we can take it in all at once. He also notes that miniatures are very often the product of painstaking craftsmanship by isolated amateurs rather than mass production, taking us into “the arena of the obsessive”. Garfield has a track record of exploring a diverse and quirky range of interests, and In Miniature is carried along by the same enthusiasm and accessibility he brought to previous books on typography, cartography, stamp collecting, the colour mauve and wrestling.


The Wild Wind

Sheena Kalayil

Polygon, £9.99

As a young woman working as a translator in the US, Sissy Olikara casts her mind back to Zambia in 1978, when she was 12 and lived happily with her Indian parents and younger brother in a school community outside Lusaka. Those idyllic times came to an end as conflict between the neighbouring countries of Rhodesia and Mozambique spilled over into Zambia and Sissy’s father returned to India, sending back letters in a language she was unable to read. Looking back over those times as an adult, she tries to figure out what it all meant, and how her parents’ separation and the absence of her father has shaped her life. She is also revealed to be badly scarred, but we have to wait patiently as her story unfolds to find out why. After two acclaimed novels, Kalayil has scored a hat-trick with her third, an emotionally resonant, semi-autobiographical story about growth and change and coming to terms with loss.