Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan
In O’Hagan’s sixth novel, James, a middle-aged writer, recalls the summer of 1986, and a weekend trip to a Manchester music festival he took with his slightly older and infinitely wilier best friend, Tully. Cut to 21 years later: Tully – now a beloved teacher in Glasgow – is dying of cancer, and James must find a way to say goodbye. In episodes marked by their emotional openness and exquisite turns of phrase, O’Hagan sets the pain of loss and the sense of things reaching their “final destination” against the recoverable joys of true friendship.
Faber & Faber, 288pp, £14.99
Labours of Love: The Crisis of Care by Madeleine Bunting
It is forgotten and dismissed, but the unpaid and underpaid care workforce props up our humanity as well as the economy. From 2015, the author and former Guardian journalist Madeleine Bunting spent five years investigating the dangers of sidelining and underfunding it – shadowing GPs, nurses, healthcare assistants, carers and disability charity workers across the country to uncover an invisible crisis. Then the pandemic came along and beamed the broken system on to our television screens, making Bunting’s revelations perfectly timed – and painfully urgent.
Granta, 320pp, £20
The Perfect Nine by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
The Gikuyu people trace their origin to Mount Kenya, where it’s said God placed Gikuyu (man) and Mumbi (woman). Legend has it that the pair had ten daughters, who came to found the ten clans of the Gikuyu. Here the prolific Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o tells the tale in rolling verse, as pacy and addictive as it is measured. Thick with allegory and adventure – the daughters and their suitors must overcome ogres of all kinds on a quest to heal their youngest sister – this is a beautifully told epic about the fundamentals of humanity.
Harvill Secker, 240pp, £12
The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War by Giles Tremlett
Six years in the making, and drawing on a wealth of archival material from across Europe and the United States, Giles Tremlett’s history of the International Brigades is a deeply impressive work of scholarship that captures the universal drama of the Spanish Civil War. Between 1936 and 1938 more than 35,000 anti-fascist volunteers from 61 countries around the world travelled to Spain and joined the republican cause against General Franco’s forces. Tremlett brings literary verve to what is the definitive global account of the Brigaders and a moving epic of fraternity in combat.
Bloomsbury, 720pp, £30
This article appears in the 28 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Reckoning