The Man Who Was George Smiley by Michael Jago (Biteback, £9.99)
Even if he hadn’t been the model for John Le Carré’s spymaster, John Bingham would have made a worthy candidate for a biography. “Unglamorous, stocky … taciturn, a patient listener”, Bingham was, in Jago’s estimation, “one of the true craftsmen of espionage”. He was born into a formerly grand but declining Anglo-Irish dynasty, his parents deprived of all but the most basic allowance by a steely matriarch and mainly leaving their son to fend for himself. Jago shows how Bingham emerged from his solitary aristocratic background with an uncommon degree of compassion and insight which served him well both in MI5 and as the author of 18 thrillers. He was nevertheless left in the shade by his protégé Le Carré, whose cynical portrayal of MI5 Bingham refused to accept. More accounts of clandestine operations would have been welcome, but this is a very well-rounded view of the life and times of a notable figure.
Echoland by Per Petterson (Vintage, £8.99)
Although this is the eighth Petterson novel to be translated into English, Echoland was only his second book, published in 1989. It’s about Arvid, a 12-year-old Norwegian boy whose Italian ancestry encourages his habit of self-mythologising. In the period covered by this novel, a family holiday to his grandparents’ home in Denmark, he’s at the stage where he wants to break some of the parental ties and establish himself as an individual. Although he’s surrounded by unresolved domestic issues, Arvid is too self-absorbed to appreciate what other members of the family are going through. It’s an allusive book, with so much of what’s driving its characters remaining unspoken. As an early work, it shows signs of the author Petterson would become, but for all the promise Echoland doesn’t fully deliver.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Oneworld, £8.99)
Woodson is a prolific author of young adult fiction, and though this book focuses on the friendship of four teenage girls, it’s told from the perspective of August, an older, well-travelled woman, imbuing her story with depth and nuance. At eight years old, she and her brother were taken by her father from their Tennessee farm to Brooklyn. Her mother didn’t come with them, and August’s life has partly been defined by this absence. We see her in early-1970s New York, bonding with Sylvia, Angela and Gigi, and despite all they endure, including the attentions of predatory males and a seemingly inevitable betrayal, the friendship, beauty and strength of these African-American girls is clear. August stresses her story is about memory rather than the events themselves, so it’s an impressionistic narrative, told in prose that’s spare but always with an underlying poetry.