NS Recommends: new books from Matthew Sperling, Arundhati Roy, Vigdis Hjorth and Gordon Bathgate

Sperling’s Viral, Roy’s AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction, Hjorth’s Long Live the Post Horn!, and Bathgate’s Radio Broadcasting: A History of the Airwaves.

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Viral by Matthew Sperling

It’s easy to fall into clichés when writing about the tech world – mocking the monotone outfits, optimised lifestyles and self-serving messages about changing the world – but Matthew Sperling’s second novel avoids these traps. A zeitgeisty satire about a Berlin-based start-up that tries to “disrupt” the escort industry, Viral is a pacey, dark dive into the morality of tech. It plays artfully on the subtle tropes of social media gurus and Silicon Valley bros without being obvious. Rather than being a parallel to Twitter discourse, it’s a cathartic answer to it.

Riverrun, 368pp, £14.99

AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction by Arundhati Roy

In this short collection of essays written between 2018 and 2020, Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy explores the meaning of freedom. “Azadi!” – Urdu for “Freedom!” – is the slogan for the freedom struggle in Kashmir, but has also become the chant for those protesting Hindu nationalism. Roy masterfully examines this irony and the questions that arise from it by drawing on her expertise as a novelist, and meditating on fiction and the power of “reimagining the world”.

Penguin, 256pp, £6

Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth, translated by Charlotte Barslund

“I feel as if my life is too banal for my despair.” In this bleak but absorbing novel from the author of Will and Testament, PR consultant Ellinor is feeling disillusioned about her personal life, her job, her very essence of being. It is a strange work brief – one from the Norwegian Post and Communications Union – that gets her back on her feet. Hjorth expertly interrogates feelings of inadequacy in concise paragraphs of wry prose: “I could try to imagine what it might be like to be anyone. But how could I really know what that was like when I had huge problems understanding myself?”

Verso, 208pp, £10.99

Radio Broadcasting: A History of the Airwaves by Gordon Bathgate

Marking the centenary of the establishment of radio, broadcaster Gordon Bathgate takes us on a whistle-stop tour of wireless communication. The book illuminates how radio transformed modern conflict and communication, particularly during the First and Second World Wars: in 1939, almost half the British population listened to the nine o’clock news each evening. Via the peak of pirate stations in the 1980s and 1990s and the introduction of DAB, Bathgate contends that radio will continue to occupy an important place in our media landscape, so long as it is always reinventing itself.

Pen & Sword, 224pp, £14.99

This article appears in the 25 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The autumn of discontent

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