Ian Paisley As I Knew Him: Charismatic, Chameleon or Charlatan?
by William Brown (Beyond the Pale Books, £15)
The title suggests a stylish takedown or cutting exposé of the Paisley persona. Sadly not. The writing is stiff, too formal and forgiving for Brown to hit the mark on a demagogue who held back Northern Irish society for so long. Much of the ground has been covered elsewhere, so a reader wants new, juicy insider anecdotes of Paisley and his retinue. Instead we have a limited “relationship”, more so Brown interpreting and weighing Paisley’s actions and words, scripture especially. Brown is no fan of the former DUP leader — he reminds us of this regularly throughout as he looks at Paisley’s private, religious and political lives — and there’s a decent smite now and then of the self-styled ‘doctor’. But not enough to satisfy. One for Paisley scholars (if they exist). — NJ McGarrigle
The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley
by Sean Lusk (Doubleday, £14.99)
In 18th-century London, Zachary Cloudesley’s life is defined by intense visions, the consequence of a childhood accident that almost blinded him. Zachary hopes his troublesome gift will allow him to solve the decades-old disappearance of his father in Constantinople. While this is his debut novel, Lusk is already an accomplished and award-winning short story writer, and it shows in the scope of his world-building, and the emotional depth of his characters, both of which he takes very little time to establish. While the pacing and dynamism suffer slightly towards the end, this is a novel that confidently plays with elements of magical realism and historical fantasy, offering the reader an enthralling journey and an enchanting protagonist. — Becky Long
by Zou Jingzhi, translated by Jeremy Tiang (Honford Star, £11.99)
It took me a while to figure out what was missing from this series of vignettes about growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution, and then I realised: a childhood. This was an era of forced youth labour in freezing wildernesses. A time when a boy could compel a grandmother to crawl on all fours on a ping-pong table with her legs bound. This is a memoir about purging the unwanted memories of a time when simply being there meant being implicated. And yet, in this limpid translation by Jeremy Tiang, there is an observational richness to the stories that humanises them and defeats the regime’s attempt to depersonalise lived experience. A fine book that stands with other quality works about the Cultural Revolution by writers such as Yan Lianke and Zhang Xianliang. — Rónán Hession