Scotland Before The Bomb

MJ Nicholls

Sagging Meniscus, £12.99

In Nicholl's new novel, Scotland has become independent and fragments as individual counties secede. Then, what used to be Scotland is wiped off the map by a hail of nuclear missiles launched by the furious Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Writing in the early 22nd Century, Nicholls pieces together a portrait of Scotland from 2014 to 2060 using whatever scattered fragments survive – and we see counties which, allowed to go their own way, become increasingly individualistic and eccentric. Ross & Cromarty undertakes a massive civil engineering project to tilt itself 75 degrees so it can spy on Invergordon; Festival performers take over Edinburgh completely; Nicholas Parsons invades Braemar and imposes a permanent game of Just a Minute on the inhabitants. Packed with everything from bogus Trip Adviser reviews to memoirs, interviews, haikus and a densely-packed seven-page list of reasons to be miserable, Nicholls’ latest is an impressive outpouring of imaginative, seemingly inexhaustible absurdity pitched somewhere between Alasdair Gray and Spike Milligan.


Natsuo Kirino

Vintage, £10.99

One of a handsomely-packaged range of Japanese reissues by Vintage, this 1997 thriller became the first of Kirino’s books to be translated into English. The plot concerns four downtrodden women working the night shift at a factory which makes boxed lunches. Coming home one night to find that her husband, Kenji, has blown their savings in a nightclub, Yayoi snaps and strangles him, she and her three friends dismembering the body and distributing it around Tokyo. When the parts are identified, the police initially suspect a gangster Kenji had crossed, but the circle gradually starts to close around the real culprits, who have by this time begun to hire out their services disposing of other bodies. Offputtingly long at 520 pages, the award-winning Out also touches on some questionable sexual politics, but its bleak, twisted and heightened reality is compelling, and it serves a dual purpose as both thriller and indictment of the conditions women suffer in the Japanese workplace.

My Parents/This Does Not Belong To You

Alexsandar Hemon

Picador, £14.99

In 1992, 28-year-old Hemon arrived in the US on a Yugoslav passport. Unable to return home due to the eruption of civil war, he sought asylum and, adopting English, continued to work as a writer. This double-header of a book explores how his Yugoslav background shaped him, but also his mother and father, who relocated to Canada a year later, isolated and disillusioned. Having benefitted from Tito’s reforms in education and women’s rights, his patriotic parents were rewarded with a rebel outsider for a son, though Hemon has since grown to envy their sense of purpose and belonging. In the second half, he turns his attention to himself, recounting memories of Sarajevo in brief vignettes which recall the experience of growing up in what seemed like a stable country with a strong leader at the helm. Thoughtful and compassionate, these twinned volumes represent Hemon’s attempts to understand himself, his parents and their heritage, perhaps partly to atone for his earlier rebelliousness.