Reviews in brief: From the poetic adaptations of Derek Mahon to a history of the rag trade and a fantasy by Stephen King

Also a translation diary by Daniel Hahn, Darren McGarvey on understanding social inequality, and Sadie Jones’s witty novel about farm life

The Adaptations (1975-2020) by Derek Mahon (Gallery Press, €22.50)

The Adaptations is part of Gallery Press’s ongoing commitment to the work of Derek Mahon. The title’s temporal span indicates the chronological organisation adopted, offering us a complete picture of Mahon’s engagement with poetry in other languages. This ranges from the choruses of Sophocles and Aristophanes, through the Latin of Lucretius, Horace and Ovid, among others. The versions of poems from Petrarch, Brecht, and Pasternak testify also to Mahon’s profound engagement with European literature, while it also traces his incursions into the poetry from the Chinese and Indian traditions. By far the greatest number of adaptations are from the French, evidence that France remained a lodestar in Mahon’s poetic practice. Above all, the volume may be read as proof of Mahon’s fascination with World Poetry. CLÍONA NÍ RÍORDÁIN

Worn: A People’s History of Clothing by Sofi Thanhauser (Allen Lane, £20)

Linen, cotton, silk, synthetics, wool: Sofi Thanhauser illuminates the world we inhabit through these five fabrics. Those even vaguely interested in the rag trade will find it a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of the clothes on our back. It is also a window into history, quite often through the voices of people who don’t have a say in history. Travelling extensively, the author reveals the craft, labour and industry that create the clothes we wear. This book is at once investigative reporting and an adventure story. The author is apparently an expert in shopping for vintage clothes, which led her to investigate the global questions explored in this book. Anecdotes abound which, coupled with a telling eye for detail, engage the reader in a subject one might not immediately consider to be of great everyday interest. Clothing manufacturers, she argues, learn early on that in a trade based on fantasy as much as it is on necessity, they aren’t simply in the business of selling fabric, cut and sewn; they are also selling glamour, especially glamour. OWEN DAWSON

Catching Fire: A Translation Diary by Daniel Hahn (Charco Press £9.99)

Catching Fire charts the experience of Daniel Hahn in translating Never Did the Fire by Chilean writer Diamela Eltit. It’s published concurrently with the translated novel, so can be read as a companion volume or as a stand-alone work if, like me, you are geekily interested in the mechanics of translation. It began as a blog and retains a certain “you don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” humour as Hahn workshops his way through the translation over a period of months. Hahn emerges as a thoughtful and resilient problem-solver, comfortable in the chaos of his method. He explains the process in a way that is inclusive of the reader but never patronising. It’s an enlightening experience, though the book suffers somewhat from being a repurposed blog rather than receiving the same care Hahn gives to his translations. RÓNÁN HESSION

The Social Distance Between Us by Darren McGarvey (Ebury Press, £20)

McGarvey’s follow-up to Poverty Safari, which won the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2018, is another heartfelt, insightful and provocative read. McGarvey asks how those saying they are trying to abolish social inequality – from politicians to bureaucrats – can understand how to do so if they have never experienced it first hand. In response, he displays the results of detached decision-making leading to many dead ends, in education, council estates, prisons and detention centres, homelessness, immigration, and other parts of society. McGarvey offers a different way of thinking about the people suffering from the social issues he writes about, and he discusses how to address the system working against them. He’s asking those in power to stop talking down to people and start talking directly instead. NJ McGARRIGLE


Amy and Lan by Sadie Jones (Vintage, £16.99)

Amy and Lan is a tender, sharp, witty novel that centres on a farm in England. Frith is home to three families, all best friends, including Amy and Lan who are like brother and sister. In some ways their childhood is idyllic – outdoor roaming until sunset, climbing, herding pigs – but in others they must witness the realities of the smallholding, from the slaughter of a beloved turkey to the precarious birth of a calf. Just as the animals on Frith rely on those who care for them, Amy and Lan’s untamed life is yoked to the adults on the farm, and decisions they make. Through their candid, ever-maturing narration, we see the adults from their perspective, the dynamics between friends, the cracks in marriages – growing aware that not everything is as trustworthy as the land. RUTH McKEE

Fairy Tale by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton, £22)

Returning to fantasy and mild horror after last year’s excellent crime caper, Billy Summers, King takes inspiration from the stories we all heard as children and mixes them with some Joseph Campbell, HP Lovecraft, and a hefty dash of Tolkienesque good versus evil. Charlie Reade, a kid who’s seen some tough times, forms a relationship with reclusive neighbour Howard Bowditch, and falls for his ailing dog, Radar. Because King’s name is on the cover, Charlie discovers, after Bowditch’s death, that the secret to his wealth and long life stems from a portal to another world he happens to have in his shed. In order to save Radar, Charlie embarks on a journey into Empis, encountering oversized insects, giants, the odd princess, and the creature that dwells at the bottom of the dark well. Though it drags in places, King’s yarn-spinning skills carry this Fairy Tale off. PAT CARTY