The Full English, Stuart Maconie, HarperNorth, £10.99, May 9

There is a long tradition in travel literature in exploring the landscape, lives and drinking habits of our next door neighbours in England, one that dates back to William Cobbett at the very least.

In his latest book, soon out in paperback, the broadcaster and writer Stuart Maconie takes JB Priestly’s 1934 travelogue English Journey as his lodestar and follows in the author’s footsteps from Southampton to Norwich (via Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle), though Maconie travels via public transport whereas Priestly at times preferred to journey in the back of a Daimler with a chauffeur up front.

Maconie makes for a chatty, amiable travelling companion who would definitely stand a round in the pub and the portrait he paints of contemporary England is, perhaps surprisingly, a quietly progressive one. That might seem rather at odds with the politics of now, but it is good to be reminded that there are always countercurrents in any culture. And it left me with a real hankering to finally make a trip to Coventry.

The Herald: Stuart MaconieStuart Maconie (Image: free)

Science Fiction

Fight Me, Austin Grossman, Michael Joseph, £20, May 23

In 1969, the science fiction writer Larry Niven wrote a notorious essay entitled Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, in which he speculated on Superman’s sex life. It was an early example of prose writers playing with superhero tropes. Austin Grossman’s Fight Me is the latest, combining a coming-of-age story with costume thrills. Expect spaceships and school proms.

I’m not sure there’s anything here that you couldn’t read in comics. The influence of Alan Moore and Frank Miller is writ large. But it has sly, smart things to say about narcissism, mental health and the one enemy no superhero can beat; the passing of time.


Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk, Kathleen Hanna, William Collins, £20, May 14

Hanna was one of the original riot grrrls. A member of Bikini Kill and, later, Le Tigre, Hanna collaborated with Sonic Youth and Joan Jett and was friends with Kurt Cobain (it was Hanna who drunkenly scrawled “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on the wall above the Nirvana front man’s bed). These days she’s married to Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys.

Musically, Hanna has always been confrontational and at times just plain noisy. On the page the same applies. This is a powerful, painful read. At times, frankly, harrowing. It charts a very messy childhood through to her teens and twenties where misogyny and the threat of sexual assault seems depressingly prevalent, Hanna proves thankfully resilient and, perhaps in defiance of her image - goofily funny.

The Herald:  Kathleen Hanna Kathleen Hanna (Image: free)


Openings, Lucy Caldwell, Faber, £14.99, May 2

This is, let’s acknowledge it, a golden time for Northern Irish fiction. Anna Burns winning the Booker with her remarkable novel Milkman in 2018, presaged the emergence of a new generation of writers from the province including Wendy Erskine and Michael Magee. At the same time, Troubles-era veterans such as David Park and Glenn Patterson are still at work and producing some of their best work. And then there is Lucy Caldwell, a fine novelist but a next-level author of short stories. Openings is her latest collection, one which jumps from Marrakech to Blitz-era London to Christmas in Belfast while reminding us that the key to fiction is paying attention. More proof that small is beautiful.


Cold Kitchen, Caroline Eden, Bloomsbury, £18.99, May 9

Tasty. Caroline Eden has long been recognised as one of the great contemporary food writers. Her last book Red Sands won the Andre Simon Award. Cold Kitchen is an aromatic mix of history, travel and food writing that takes the reader from the banks of the Tigris River to a cafe in Rynok Square in Lviv. But it’s also worth noting that the kitchen in the title is Eden’s own in her adopted home city of Edinburgh. And ultimately, this is a book about home and what that word might mean.

The Herald: Cold Kitchen Cold Kitchen (Image: free)


Less, Patrick Grant, William Collins, £22, May 9

The Edinburgh-born Savile Row tailor and Great Sewing Bee judge has long been one of the more astute commentators on fashion and clothing. His latest book Less is something of a manifesto. You can probably tell from the fact that it has not one but two subtitles: “Stop Buying So Much Rubbish” and “How Having Fewer Things Can Make Us Happier”. The result is both a critique of our love of fast fashion and a call for us to appreciate good design and the utility of craft. The resulting argument is as well turned out as Grant invariably is.


Pariah Genius, Iain Sinclair, Cheerio Publishing, £19.99

Already in shops, Iain Sinclair’s latest book is being billed as a novel, though it’s also been described as a “psychohistory.” Its subject is the post-war Soho photographer John Deakin, once described by George Melly as a “vicious little drunk of such inventive malice and implacable bitchiness that it’s surprising he didn’t choke on his own venom.” Deakin’s photographs certainly always had a cold, disdainful glitter to them.

In Pariah, Genius Sinclair immerses us in the tarry, clotted 1950s and the court of the painter Francis Bacon. The result is a nicotine-stained, whisky-smudged vision of a moment in time now far distant.

The Herald: Pariah Genius, Iain SinclairPariah Genius, Iain Sinclair (Image: free)

Graphic novel

My Favourite Thing is Monsters Book Two, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics, £44.99, May 28

There’s a new Colm Toibin novel out this month, Long Island (Picador, May 23), a sequel to his novel Brooklyn. But you’re going to read that anyway, aren’t you? So, can I direct you, instead, to another sequel? Or rather the second volume of Emil Ferris’s My Favourite Thing is Monsters. It’s taken Ferris eight years to complete this colossus of a book and a passing glance can tell you why. The intricacy and attention to detail in her cross-hatched art is eye-watering. But it all adds to the depth and complexity of the story she tells.

Our narrator is a 10-year-old misfit called Karen, who is obsessed with B-movies and horror comics and who thinks she’s a werewolf, while trying to make sense of the world around her (late 1960s Chicago) in the pages of her diary (ruled pages from a notebook).

Taken together (and it’s best to read the first book before tackling this one) the two volumes explore race, gender, sexuality, fear, violence, the importance of great art, the Holocaust and love, all told through a child’s eye. In years to come I suspect it will be mentioned in the same breath as Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satraipi’s Perseopolis.

Crime fiction

Crime Hunted, Abir Mukherjee, Harvill Secker, £14.99, May 9

Branching out from his ongoing Wyndham & Banerjee historical crime series, Abir Mukherjee offers up a thriller that manages to tackle contemporary terrorism, radicalisation and family. As the tagline goes: “You can’t save your kids, but can you stop them?”

The Herald: Abir MukherjeeAbir Mukherjee (Image: free)


The Last Drop, Tim Smedley, Picador, £11.99, May 9

Now coming out in paperback, Tim Smedley’s book on the global water crisis opens on the banks of a dead lake in the Jordan Valley, “the lowest land point on Earth.” What follows is a map of the environmental threat to human life caused by the scarcity, pollution and mismanagement of our water supplies, but also offers hope by seeking out potential remedies.