Crusoe’s Island by Andrew Lambert (Faber & Faber, £8.99)
Juan Fernández is a tiny island that has attracted more than its share of attention since Alexander Selkirk was stranded there, becoming the basis for Robinson Crusoe. Here, naval historian Lambert recounts its history and asks how an island never actually owned by Britain could figure so prominently in a “distinctive English vision”. Alongside accounts by explorers like Dampier and Anson, whose stomach-churning visit left 254 dead, he argues that Juan Fernández has special significance as a symbol of English insularity, the policy of pursuing dominion over the sea after defeat in Europe, and that Robinson Crusoe was part of Defoe’s “manifesto for an ever-expanding global economy”. In an impressively bad-tempered conclusion, Lambert lambasts modern Britons for rewriting their country’s history to serve a European agenda and envisions the bulldozing of Trafalgar Square – which will leave many readers, who have seen Britain’s obsession with its imperial past enjoying an emphatic resurgence, both puzzled by his analysis and shocked at his vehemence.
Basket Of Deplorables by Tom Rachman (riverrun, £8.99)
From London-born Canadian Tom Rachman comes a handful of short stories written since Trump’s election, all of them loosely connected. A wealthy, complacent Democrat couple throw a party on election night, taking it for granted that Hillary Clinton will win. A barista has to organise a memorial service for a brother he hated, paying actors
to attend so his mother doesn’t realise how unpopular he was. A couple of strangers have to negotiate the new rules of dating after hackers make everyone’s emails available online. And there’s an unexpected, and chilling, sci-fi finish. All these stories are intertwined, with characters from each referenced in others. That, and the theme of Trump’s America running through them, gives these stories a sense of well-planned unity, which is impressive for them having been written over such a short space of time. Even without their sense of almost journalistic immediacy, they’re diverting and satisfying tales, laced with just the right amount of caustic wit.
The Angel Of History by Rabih Alameddine (Corsair, £8.99)
Over the course of one night in the waiting room of a psychiatric clinic, gay Yemeni poet Jacob reflects on his life. Urged by Satan to remember his past and by Death to forget it, he recalls his upbringing in an Egyptian brothel and his education in a Catholic orphanage. But the most significant part of his story involves the years spent living in San Francisco at the height of the Aids epidemic. He’s never been able to get over the deaths of all his friends, and his unresolved trauma is worsened by the realisation that hatred in the US has shifted from gays to Arabs, with Jacob always on the receiving end. Incorporating stories ripped from Jacob’s imagination, such as the family who keep a pet Arab and the thoughts of a drone sweeping over the Middle East – as well as the presence throughout his life of 14 guardian angels – this is a daring, adventurous novel with dizzying shifts of tone.