A Keeper

Graham Norton

Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99

Following her mother’s death, Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland from New York and uncovers a stash of letters which shed light on the mystery surrounding her father. Running alongside Elizabeth’s story is that of Patricia, 40 years earlier. Her own mother having died, Patricia is free to get on with her life and hooks up with a gruff farmer through a lonely hearts ad, little suspecting what lies ahead. To expect the king of the chat show to excel as a novelist is asking a lot, but this is a creditable effort from Norton, who brings a great deal of compassion and humour to the story, along with a keen understanding of what it must have been like to be a single mother in ‘70s Ireland. On the other hand, there’s some weird characterisation here too, and an inconsistent and often misjudged tone, especially when events take a melodramatic turn. Even so, it’s a compelling novel that’s hard to put down.

The March of the Lemmings

Stewart Lee

Faber & Faber, £14.99

With Brexit fatigue reaching peak levels after three interminable years, even humorous commentary has to be exceptional to encroach on recreational reading time too. The March of the Lemmings, unfortunately, isn’t. This book collects the comedian’s Observer columns from May 2016 to March this year, during which time he was obsessed to the exclusion of all else with Brexit. Normally, anyone who can visualise the Today programme as a stack of jellyfish topped by a Robert Redford wig, or the Countryside Alliance appropriating Flux of Pink Indians to protest rural post office closures, would automatically get my vote. But Lee seems worn down by constant anger rather than energised by it. His satirical lampoons feel tired, his tone grumpy and sniping and too many of his caustic attacks, which should shimmer with a righteous wrath, come across instead as petty and vindictive. It’s exhausting, and the copious footnotes stop dead any momentum he manages to build up.

Welcome to America

Linda Boström Knausgård

World Editions, £10.99

Despite her mother’s insistence that they are “a family of light”, her father’s mental illness and subsequent death have cast a shadow over 11-year-old Ellen, her mother and her brother. Ellen prayed to God for her father to die, and he did, for which she understandably feels responsible. Now, Ellen won’t speak a word and feels more like herself than ever before: “My refusal to speak was bigger than I ever was.” Her brother, meanwhile, is so obsessed with privacy that he nails his bedroom door shut, but when he gets a girlfriend Ellen is disturbed that “turmoil” is replacing an orderly silence. Translated from the Swedish, this slim novella is light on plot and recognises no obligation to follow a classic structure or provide closure. It’s a self-portrait of Ellen, following the workings of her mind as she tries to understand herself and her place in her family, and its portrayal of trauma and healing has a dark beauty.