LUSTER

Raven Leilani

Picador, £9.99

Twenty-three-year-old black New Yorker Edie is an editor in a publishing firm who’d really rather be working in the art department. The self-confessed “office slut”, she hooks up through a dating app with white 40-something Eric. He’s in an open marriage with his wife, Rebecca, who, surprisingly, takes to Edie, and offers to let her stay at their house when the younger woman loses her job so that she can devote more time to her painting – but really because she thinks Edie might be a good friend and role model for their adopted black daughter, Akila. There’s a lot to unpack here, and Raven Leilani is clearly having a ridiculously good time doing it. With a virtuosic command of language and long, winding sentences, Leilani explores how the power dynamics of race, sex and the workplace interact, invoking irony, self-awareness and sly satirical humour without dismissing the importance of Edie’s emotional needs.

HeraldScotland:

PIPPO & CLARA

Diana Rosie

Pan, £8.99

It’s 1938 in Italy, and siblings Clara, 10, and Pippo, 7, have just been brought into town by their widowed mother. On their first night, she goes to meet someone who might find her a job and hasn’t returned by morning. Separately, her children go out to look for her, Clara turning right and Pippo turning left, an arbitrary decision that profoundly affects their lives: one is taken in by a family of middle-class fascists, the other by working-class communists. Sustained by the hope of one day being reunited – and they unknowingly come very close – Clara and Pippo adopt opposing ideologies as Italy perches on the brink of civil war and the Second World War rumbles on in the background. But even in these circumstances they can find moments of happiness. A very moving, emotionally engaging novel, Pippo & Clara also scores for its well-researched, convincing depiction of the Italian politics of the time.

HeraldScotland:

THE GUYANA QUARTET

Wilson Harris

Faber, £12.99

Harris, who was knighted in 2010 and died three years ago at the age of 96, was Guyana’s greatest literary export. As a government surveyor, he led expeditions up the Amazon for 15 years, but his most profound exploration of the South American interior was in his writing. The four novellas from the early 1960s gathered together as The Guyana Quartet are generally agreed to be his finest. They have a reputation for being difficult, and not without reason. With only one foot in realism, Harris told his stories through symbolism and metaphor, almost burying the plots of these short-form epics beneath their imagery. Although his storytelling gets more conventional later, the first novella verges on magical realism, his protagonist setting off upriver and losing his grip on reality the deeper inland he goes. These are challenging works, but also rich and rewarding examples of a poetic sensibility in mid-20th-century literary fiction.