A psychological adventure, Scots grit, and a village in sign language

New books by Louise Stern, James Kelman and Douglas Kennedy.

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Ismael and His Sisters

Louise Stern

Stern’s first book, Chattering, was a beguiling set of stories about growing up deaf. Her debut novel – set in a Mexican village where many of the inhabitants are deaf and both the hearing and the deaf communicate with sign language – deepens the theme. The three deaf siblings of the title separate, leaving the village and experiencing a transformation before returning. Influenced by magical realism, the writing can tip into metaphysical excess but Stern’s way with the dialogue and thought of the deaf, weaving words with actions,
is a literary magic trick.

Granta Books, 224pp, £12.99

 

A Lean Third

James Kelman

In 1985, Jonathan Cape published Lean Tales, a collection of short stories by three Scottish writers: Alasdair Gray, Agnes Owens and James Kelman. Owens died in 2014 and the book is now out of print. Tangerine Press has produced a beautiful reissue of Kelman’s third. Each tale has been updated by the author, who follows them with a long afterword on writing, collaborating and the pressure to conform that has dogged his career (those at the BBC are “guardians of High English Culture who will commandeer the very nails from your fingers and show amazement if you offer resistance”). Here are snapshots of Scots abroad, nightlife, chance encounters, the thrill and buzz and sadness of working-class life.

Tangerine Press, 112pp, £12

 

The Heat of Betrayal

Douglas Kennedy

Robin has been Paul’s wife for three years, a late marriage for both of them. She’s an accountant, he’s an artist and they decide to settle down and have the baby Robin has longed for. When Paul suggests a trip to Morocco, Robin is happy to go along (and pay the bill). Once they’re in Africa, she discovers that her midlife idyll isn’t what it seems; it will take all the courage she possesses to find her way home. A psychological adventure illuminated by a desert sun.

Hutchinson, 336pp, £12.99

This article appears in the 01 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Scots are coming!