The Hidden

Mary Chamberlain

Oneworld, £8.99

Best known as an academic historian before turning to fiction with The Dressmaker of Dachau, Chamberlain unflinchingly explores the World War II German occupation of the Channel Islands in this novel, her characters forced to confront a past they thought they’d left behind. German Barbara Hummel finds the photograph of an unknown woman among her mother’s possessions, and her search for this woman’s identity leads her to approach Dora Simon, who worked as a midwife in Jersey and tried to keep her German Jewish heritage quiet, and Joe O’Cleary, a priest who has his own wartime secrets. It’s obvious why they would want to forget the war years: Chamberlain shows at its starkest the cruelty of the occupiers, who set up no fewer than 23 labour camps, alongside the military brothels which were an inspiration for her story. It’s a powerful and raw, though elegantly written, character piece dealing with inhumanity and endurance, firmly grounded in real events.

The False River

Nick Holdstock

Unthank, £9.99

The Willesden Herald Short Story Prize might not sound glitzy, but it allows Nick Holdstock’s story “Ward” (in which a teenage girl’s cancer diagnosis changes the course of her life) to be described as award-winning, which feels deserved. And judging by the quality of these stories, it won’t be his last accolade. Short story collections are often front-loaded with the best work, but The Last River actually become more compelling as it goes along. His ease with dark and transgressive themes (animal-lovers should skip past “The Ballad of Poor Lucy Miller”) brings to mind a young Ian McEwan, but Holdstock is a multi-faceted writer who often seems to be urging his stories to break free of the frames surrounding them and even alters one character mid-story because he doesn’t like the direction it’s going. But mostly this accomplished collection is driven by a burning curiosity about the psychological states of its characters, and it should put him firmly on the literary map.


John Wray

Canongate, £8.99

While in Afghanistan in 2016, Wray, author of The Lost Time Accidents, heard tales of a young American woman who had fought for the Taliban 15 years earlier. Unable to follow up any definite leads, he instead wrote Godsend about the fictional 18-year-old Aden Grace Sawyer, who travels to Pakistan on the pretext of studying Arabic and disguises herself as a man, renaming herself Suleyman, so that she can join a madrassa before crossing the Afghan border to enlist in the Taliban. It’s turned out to be a well-researched, perceptive work, Wray putting himself in the place of an American convert experiencing a Muslim land for the first time and expressing the solace she derives from it. Throughout this somewhat austere but intelligent and compassionate novel, he approaches both Islam and Aden’s need for spiritual fulfilment with commendable respect, even as the World Trade Centre is attacked and she finds herself unintentionally caught up in a war against her homeland.