Antoine Laurain

(Gallic Books, £10.99)

To the delight of editor Violaine LePage, her Parisian publishing house has scored a critical and commercial hit with the mystery novel Sugar Flowers. The fact that Violaine has never met the debut author, Camille Desencres, who communicates only via e-mail, and has no clue as to his/her identity, poses a problem when the book is nominated for the Prix Goncourt. But the situation worsens when murders are committed in Rouen which bear an unsettling resemblance to those described in Sugar Flowers. Violaine is sucked into the mystery, wondering what part she plays in it, as suspicion points in the direction of her own readers’ room. Laurain has spun a fantastically intricate web here, where the smallest detail could be significant, and, no matter how sure you are that you’ve grasped it, he is one step ahead. Joyously far-fetched and metafictional, it’s sharp, funny and, at 170 pages, declines to outstay its welcome.


Tsitsi Dangarembga

(Faber, £8.99)

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize for this novel, and at time of writing contesting charges in Zimbabwe of intention to incite public violence, Dangarembga concludes the trilogy she began with Nervous Conditions, which follows her character Tambu from late-1960s Rhodesia to late-1990s Zimbabwe. Despite her English education and advertising agency experience, Tambu is sinking into poverty after being ejected from her hostel for being too old. Once so hopeful, she feels cheated of her future and bitter about not having made more of herself, and makes ever more morally compromised choices to keep her head above water, eventually pandering to ecotourists by selling them a stereotyped, colonial version of her culture. Written in the second person, this essential, masterfully written literary study of Dangarembga’s homeland distances us from Tambu while at the same time making us feel complicit in her choices and understanding of her loss of compassion and alienation from her people.


Ocean Vuong

(Vintage, £8.99)

Little Dog, who narrates the Vietnamese-American poet’s first novel, is effectively a stand-in for Vuong himself, growing up in Connecticut with his Vietnamese mother and grandmother and set apart by his ethnicity and sexuality. Central to the story is his troubled relationship with his mother, Rose, who can neither speak nor read English, and it’s addressed to her in an attempt to close the gulf between them, which, by virtue of his ability to write, serves to drive them further apart. Stretching back to include his grandmother’s experiences in Vietnam and his mother’s difficulties in providing for him, Vuong’s account is tinged with sadness, miscommunication and mistreatment. When, at 14, he starts work on a tobacco farm and embarks on a relationship with the owner’s tearaway grandson, their sex is predictably laced with violence. It’s a unique take on the immigrant experience, a curiously beautiful blend of cruelty and tenderness.