Books in brief: From near-famine in Ireland to art world satire

Peter Cunningham’s novel never lets go of its grip; Eliza Clark’s black comedy is bold

Peter Cunningham. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Peter Cunningham. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Freedom Is a Land I Cannot See
Peter Cunningham
Sandstone Press, £8.99
This novel, set in Dublin in 1924, centres on Rose Raven, a beautiful young woman who has lost her eyesight and her first love and lives quietly with her brother. He’s a journalist whose involvement in trying to expose near-famine conditions in the west of Ireland draws the attention of a sinister and brutal police detective. The narrative is divided into two almost exactly equal parts, told in reverse chronological order, with an ingenious epilogue creating the apparent “historical” reality. A superbly crafted novel that grabs the attention from the outset and releases it only at the end, it conveys with great skill – probably better than any history book could – the conflicting, crisscrossing, complex loyalties of so many families caught up in those high-octane, dangerous times. Brian Maye

All Men Want To Know
Nina Bouraoui
Viking, £12.99
The brilliant thing about this book is that it makes reading autobiographies chic. Its loosely structured style cleverly takes the reader from setting to setting, country to country, and present to past in quick-paced sentences and short chapters. Bouraoui’s unflinching depiction of her life, told in a detached, measured tone, catches one unawares. Her descriptions, although witty, are also unmistakably sad. Her love for all that is womanhood is heart-warming. I found myself looking forward to reading the Knowing and Remembering chapters more, eager to see Algiers through young Nina’s eyes, to follow the struggles of her mother and her friends, women raised in a culture that was completely opposite to the one they were trying to either adapt to or give up on. Melatu Uche Okorie

Boy Parts
Eliza Clark
Influx, £9.99
Channelling Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh and at times, Gwendoline Riley, this black comedy about a young artist in Newcastle is a devastating satire of the art world and its current trends and discourses around sexuality, the “gaze” and the power dynamics between artist and subject. Following Irina as she psychopathically tracks down male models for her artistic projects, ahead of her first solo exhibition since a brief flash of success in her early twenties, Boy Parts explores the darkest corners of artistic practice, sexuality and violence with bold wit and fearlessness. A dazzling, horrifying debut that questions the desires for attention, control and affect that underlie so much artistic practise. Clark succeeds in creating a grotesque portrait of the artist as a young vampire. Christiana Spens

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