The Appointment by Katharina Volckmer
In Katharina Volckmer’s debut novel, a young woman sits in an expensive private practice and confesses to one Dr Seligman. Her pacy monologue is so subversive it is at times uncomfortable to read: she tells of her sexual infatuation with Hitler, which comes coupled with a deep shame of her German heritage, along with contempt at being both a woman and a daughter. Radical and endlessly thought-provoking, this book is a bold examination of the relationship between nationhood and selfhood.
Fitzcarraldo Editions, 112pp, £9.99
The Light Ages by Seb Falk
The phrase “medieval science” is often understood as a contradiction. Here, the historian and Cambridge University lecturer Seb Falk provides a lucid explanation of why it is not. In fact, the “Dark Ages”, one name for the period between the fifth and 15th centuries AD, is itself a misnomer. “The medieval reality is a Light Age of scientific interest and inquiry,” Falk states, in this beautifully illustrated book that follows characters including a 14th-century monk turned inventor and astrologer, and the Persian polymath who founded the world’s most advanced observatory.
Allen Lane, 416pp, £20
On Connection by Kae Tempest
This slim volume from the poet, playwright and recording artist formerly known as Kate Tempest is a meditation on the power of creativity as a means of connection. If that sounds vapid, or you imagine its content to be irritatingly sanctimonious, it is not. Tempest’s prose is crisp and thoughtful, and they are as willing to own up to their own mistakes and flaws as they are eager to insist upon the importance of the arts as a resource for cultivating greater self-awareness. “It’s basically like this,” Tempest writes, “anything that can remind me that at all times, other people are existing and that their existence is as fully felt as my own, is useful.”
Faber & Faber, 144pp, £9.99
That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry’s third short story collection is full of the damaged characters, menacing rural scenery and darkly comic, slantwise prose that have become his trademark. Most of these stories are, like his novel Beatlebone, set in the alluring but damp and ruinous land that gives rise to the “very old joke – Cause of death: the west of Ireland”. A pregnant 17-year-old waits for her fiancé to return from robbing a petrol station; a loner falls for a Polish girl working in the local café; a policeman stalks his foe through the brooding Ox Mountains. At each turn, Barry makes his fiction a matter of life and death.
Canongate, 192pp, £14.99
This article appears in the 14 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Can Joe Biden save America?