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Sunday Herald Life - - BOOKS REVIEWS - By Alas­tair Mab­bott

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.

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