NS Recommends: New books from Fiona Sampson, Samira Shackle, Stella Duffy and Steven Hall

Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Sampson, Karachi Vice by Shackle, Lullaby Beach by Duffy and Maxwell’s Demon by Hall. 


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Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Fiona Sampson

The first biography of Barrett Browning in more than 30 years is a nuanced and insightful account, dismantling previous studies that viewed the poet only in relation to her domineering father or husband. Fiona Sampson, a poet herself as well as a biographer of Mary Shelley, argues that central to Barrett Browning’s story is the construction of identity – both in her life and the myth-making that surrounds it. Such a construction is itself a two-way creation, argues Sampson. “That the life of the body both enables and limits the life of the mind is the paradox of the thinking self.”

Profile, 336pp, £20

Karachi Vice by Samira Shackle

In her powerful narrative non-fiction debut, the British journalist Samira Shackle portrays the violent entanglement of crime and politics in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, through the testimonies of five of its citizens. Among them is Safdar, an ambulance driver who treats the bodies dismembered by suicide bombs and gang brutality with dignity; and Parveen, a teacher grappling with systemic illiteracy. Shackle weaves Karachi’s turbulent history of political unrest and ethnic divisions around quiet acts of humanity – revealing the city’s bruised but resilient spirit.

Granta, 272pp, £14.99

Lullaby Beach by Stella Duffy

An English seaside town, seen through the eyes of three generations of the same family, is the setting for the 17th book by the author and playwright. This novel is, in essence, a thriller: when Lucy finds the body of her great-aunt Kitty, a note and empty pill bottles lying next to her, she is determined to unravel the truth of what happened. But Duffy is not simply a crime writer; her prose is warm and intriguing, and Lullaby Beach explores familial legacy, generational secrets and the effects of long-lasting trauma with a distinct tenderness.

Little, Brown, 256pp, £16.99

Maxwell’s Demon by Steven Hall

The second novel from the author of the bestselling The Raw Shark Texts (2007) is an entropic and sprawling mystery. Thomas Quinn is a struggling author living in the shadow of his deceased father, a renowned journalist. When he receives an ominous letter from his rival (and his father’s protégé) Andrew Black – a once successful author who has long since faded into anonymity – Thomas embarks on a mind-twisting journey to find out what really lies behind the message. Introspective and philosophical, the novel explores the dangers that occur when fatalistic urges take over.

Canongate, 352pp, £16.99

[see also: NS Recommends: New books from Juliet Nicolson, Shalom Auslander, Simon Kuper and Caleb Azumah Nelson]

This article appears in the 10 February 2021 issue of the New Statesman, End of the affair

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