Reviews in brief: Breaking free from the chains of someone else’s narrative

Short reviews of The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and The Street by Ann Petry

Abi Daré: A delicate yet fierce debut novel

The Girl with the Louding Voice
Abi Daré
Sceptre, £12.99

The protagonist of Abi Daré's debut novel is 14-year-old Adunni, a Nigerian girl who is relentless and determined in her quest to attain an education. Escaping an arranged marriage, she finds herself facing a life of indentured servitude – and imposed silence. But Adunni was not born to stay silent. Within Daré's narrative, having a voice means even more than just being able to speak for oneself. It means owning one's story, choosing the words that mean the most; in short, personal agency through narrative. Storytelling, in its own way, becomes an empowering act. Adunni's struggle to educate herself is inspirational to the point of heartbreak, as the reader is reminded that learning, dreaming and reading are rights not afforded to everyone. Poetic and beautiful, harrowing and humorous, this is a delicate yet fierce debut novel that urges us to find joy even in the most hopeless of situations. – Becky Long

Galway Stories: 2020
Edited by Lisa Frank and Alan McMonagle
Doíre Press, €15

Edited by writers Lisa Frank and Alan McMonagle, Galway Stories: 2020 offers the reader exactly that – a collection of stories that weave their ways through the streets and hearts of the city by the Corrib. The contents page is divided into locations, ranging from the city centre to the wilds of Connemara, revealing the project's ambitious reach into the myth and spirit of this liminal place. The anthology emerges against the background of the city's year as European Capital of Culture, an endeavour seemingly haunted by false starts and unforeseen events. The collection, however, manages to capture the essence of the city that lies at its heart, and the people who call it home. Intimate, tender, disconcerting, these stories leave the reader wanting more, just as anyone leaving Galway has always wanted to stay a little while longer. – Becky Long


The Street
Ann Petry
Virago Modern Classics, £9.99

Readers might be unfamiliar with Ann Petry, but The Street, a true tour de force originally published in 1946, was the first book by a black woman to sell more than one million copies, and its republication should bring Petry back to readers' attention. The story is set in 1940s Harlem, on a street to which Lutie Johnson and her young son Bub have come in search of a new start, a better life. But, try as Lutie might, the system is not on her side: men are weak, amoral and predatory; women are put-upon or scheming; children who grow up on the street are bound to be lost. Lutie's determination drives her, but how can she prevail when all the cards are stacked against her? – Claire Looby

The Society of Reluctant Dreamers
By José Eduardo Agualusa
Harvill Secker, £14.99

Agualusa's story will please fans of JM Coetzee and Damon Galgut. Told with the same kind of tone, and adding a dash of surrealism, he paints a picture of a country in frustration, a middle-aged man caught in a liminal space of wanting to drift and needing an anchor, and the secondary voices of Moira, Hossi and a string of scientists, doctors, political protestors and those who desert their nation. The narrative follows characters who have escaped a life, those who connect with strangers unconsciously through dreams, and the want for change that can be both inspired and perhaps seeded. Manipulation, truth and idealism map out Agualusa's story, which takes place between modern-day Angola and South America. A colourful book with dark threads. –Dani Gill

Real Life
Adeline Dieudonné (translated by Roland Glasser)
World Editions, £11.99

The narrator's father hunts big game; "the big eat the small," he says. A predator within his own home, he has reduced his wife to an amoebic existence. Fear has decayed the family to little more than the carcasses that hang with pride in the trophy room upstairs. Our narrator is a young woman entering a "lacerated adolescence". Her childish inexperience and innocent belief in the world is in stark contrast to the brutality of this "real life". However, while this is a story about vulnerability and the victims of domestic abuse, it is also a story of courage. Dieudonné's debut novel, translated terrifically by Roland Glasser is, at once, fearsome and with heart. – Brigid O'Dea

Sunset Song
Lewis Grassic Gibbon
Canongate, £12.99

Widely regarded as one of the greatest Scottish novels of the 20th century and set just before, during and after the first World War, thist tells the story of Chris Guthrie, who grows up on a farm in northeast Scotland. She lives a tough life with a dysfunctional family; faced with a choice between continuing to run the farm or becoming a teacher, she commits herself to the land. Her husband is brutalised by participation in the war, which claims his life. The main theme is change (the old ways come to an end, as suggested in the novel's title), but it's also a love song to and a cry of anger against old Scotland. Scots dialect and some obscure allusions necessitate use of an index and glossary, which slows the reading somewhat, but it's worth persisting. – Brian Maye