Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson
This debut novel is strikingly experimental, but reading it feels completely natural. Watson narrates a single day in the mind of a nameless young woman. Preoccupied with trauma, she drags herself through mundane tasks and scratches compulsively at her legs. We witness her thoughts, often two or three at a time, in clusters of words architecturally arranged on the page, surrounded by blank space. Far from the chaos that could be invoked by such daring prose, Little Scratch is a coherent, gripping account of how it feels to be alive.
Faber & Faber, 224pp, £12.99
The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell
In 2007, Stephen Jackley used replica pistols and a meticulously planned escape route to commit ten bank robberies in south-west England. Jackley was an “unusual suspect”: a 21-year-old geography student with Asperger’s syndrome, he saw himself as a modern-day Robin Hood. Before his arrest in 2008, Jackley planned to use his criminal gains to address the inequality presided over by a “global oligarchy”. Ben Machell’s deeply reported book is not only a gripping true-crime story, but also a sensitive and melancholy portrait of someone who has long struggled to fit in to society.
Canongate, 320pp, £16.99
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
In this page-turning debut, three women grapple with parenthood as they attempt to share a single pregnancy: one a trans woman, one a detransitioned trans woman, and one a cis female who has become pregnant by the latter. Although it may first appear like a political story about polyamory, Detransition, Baby is far more universal and complex. Through a careful narrative that laces humour into every paragraph, Peters paints a story of LGBT identity that will be engaging to any person who has struggled to define their place in the world.
Serpent’s Tail, 352pp, £14.99
[See also: How Augustus rebuilt Rome]
Begin Again by Eddie S Glaude Jr
While last year’s global reckoning on race made many pay attention to the importance of fighting racism, it left others feeling disgruntled: black activists have long voiced such matters – why did it take until now for everyone else to listen? Into this climate steps Begin Again, a powerful indictment of racial injustice in the US written in conversation with the writings of James Baldwin, one of many thinkers who worked tirelessly against white supremacy, and whose wisdom should be part of our conversations today. “What many of his critics, then and today, fail to realise,” writes Glaude, an American academic, “is that Baldwin never gave up on the possibility that all of us could be better.”
Chatto & Windus, 272pp, £16.99
This article appears in the 13 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, American civil war