Jessica Gaitán Johannesson

Scribe, £8.99

Kristin is 24, Swedish and lives in Leith with her boyfriend Ciaran, a Colombian-born nurse who was adopted and has only known Scotland. He’s decided to learn to speak Swedish for Kristin, but she would rather he just talk to her, in English, about their relationship and her newly-discovered pregnancy. At work, Kristin dresses as a Viking in a museum where people play at being their ancestors and are only allowed to speak their “native” tongue, which is reason enough for her to ponder language at length. Does language affect how we think? Are we different people depending on which language we speak? And, most importantly, can a couple who grew up speaking different languages ever truly connect? As interesting, and as well-written, as her explorations are, Johannesson’s offbeat approach doesn’t make a great virtue of plotting, and her various elements just miss fusing together into a satisfying, unified novel.

The Herald:


Paulo Scott

And Other Stories, £10

From the Brazilian town of Porto Alegre came two brothers. Federico had lighter skin than Lourenço, which meant that he was spared the worst of the racism surrounding them as they grew up. His guilt over passing for white led him to anti-racist activism. Now, in 2016, Federico sits on a government commission investigating the use in a race quota scheme of software designed to classify people by their ethnicity, and the student protests that have resulted. On the commission, he faces his country’s racism head-on. But then he has to return to Porto Alegre because his niece has been arrested for carrying a firearm to a demonstration, a gun which threatens to blow a family secret wide open. The well-structured Phenotypes skilfully examines complex issues through its characterisation, but for all its considered, thoughtful approach it’s still an angry and emotional novel which allows Scott to rail against his homeland’s racism.

The Herald:


Alison Moore

Salt, £9.99

Aged 40, aspiring painter Sandra goes to an artists’ retreat on the island of Leiloh in the English Channel, attracted to the island partly because silent film star Valerie Swanson once lived there. Unfortunately, her reception couldn’t be more unwelcoming: the other attendees gang up and bully her. Unsure whether the problem is with them or her, the demoralised Sandra has no choice but to fight back. Her story is intercut with chapters about Carol, who goes to the same island to finish a novel some years later and senses a presence in Swanson’s old house, taking time away from her writing to learn about its previous occupants. Drawing us in with a steadily-building atmosphere, Moore layers her text with references to fairy tales and literary islands, Carol’s eerie experiences suggesting a connection to Sandra’s plight, before she smartly, but not excessively neatly, ties up her various strands, leaving behind a palpable sense of unease.