Hannah Persaud

(Muswell Press, £8.99)

Conventional on the surface, Ryan and Emily have a nice house in London and two teenage sons. But the secret of their apparently happy relationship is that it’s an open marriage. Having other partners is Emily’s preference: Ryan goes along with it so he doesn’t lose her. And it works passably well, until Ryan breaks one of the rules by spending more than a single night with his colleague Ada and starting to see her regularly. Things get even more complicated when the intense, free-spirited Ada proves to be too much for Ryan and gets involved with Emily as well, reigniting her attraction to women. Ryan and Emily aren’t particularly likeable, and their tense relationship seems fated to fail, but Persaud’s story is compelling enough to keep us on board as she explores the boundaries and complex dynamics of an unconventional relationship and, like her characters, questions what marriage is actually about.



Agnès Poirier

(Oneworld, £9.99)

By the night that it was ravaged by fire in April 2019, the cathedral of Notre-Dame had been standing by the Seine for 850 years. More than just an architectural marvel, the splendid Gothic building was “the soul of a nation”, and the inferno sent a shockwave through France. The first part of this book is a breathless minute-by-minute account of the night of the blaze, as firefighters battled to save what remained and curators risked their lives to save its most precious artefacts. From there, Poirier goes on to tell the story of Notre-Dame through the ages and how it is inextricably woven into French history. It falls short of staking a claim to being the definitive work, but this whistle-stop tour through such events as its reconsecration as a “Temple of Reason”, Napoleon’s coronation and the 1944 liberation of Paris unlocks the door to the past and illuminates Notre-Dame’s role in French culture.


Graham Swift

(Scribner, £8.99)

Following up the languid, beguiling Mothering Sunday, Swift continues to roam the past, settling on Brighton in 1959: an end-of-the-pier show in the dying days of the variety era. Magician Ronnie and his assistant Evie are engaged. But Evie gravitates towards compere and “song and dance man” Jack and ends up marrying him instead. Jack becomes successful, Ronnie disappears from view. Now 75, Evie wistfully looks back half a century to a moment in that hazy summer which altered their lives, and we see the seismic impact that evacuation had on Ronnie during the war, when he was displaced from Bethnal Green to a comfortable middle-class home in Oxfordshire. Other authors would try to evoke an era by cramming in loads of period detail and writing at immersive length. Swift achieves the same effect with brevity and a light, deft touch, letting the story tell itself with a transparency that’s becoming his signature.