Notes From The Sofa by Raymond Briggs (Unbound, £8.99)
A selection of articles written for The Oldie, this is the first new book from Raymond Briggs for a decade, and the first he hasn’t written with children in mind. He seems to relish the freedom his column has given him to roam through his thoughts, whether that means entertainingly bemoaning his failing physical prowess and his exasperation with modern living, dredging up old memories or recounting his new-found friendship with a stray chicken. For the most part, he keeps curmudgeonliness at bay, opting to look at the modern world with benign bemusement – after all, there can be few men pushing 80 who will confess to carrying around a wedge to stabilise café tables but also express their joy that graphic novels are at last becoming respectable. Briggs’s nostalgia is of a wistful rather than grumpy kind, and always comes with an undertone of selfdeprecation. He only bares his fangs when commenting on the decline of literacy and educational standards.
The Burnt-Out Town Of Miracles by Roy Jacobsen (Maclehose, £8.99)
In Finland in 1939, the Russian forces are approaching, but although his neighbours have fled, setting fire to their houses as they leave, woodcutter Timo can’t imagine living anywhere else and stays put. Generally reckoned to be the village idiot, Timo is actually a brilliant survivor of winters that can plummet to -40C, and the invading Russians come to rely on him, putting him in charge of a logging team. Elsewhere, the Finns are furiously fighting the Russians, and history shows that they triumphed against overwhelming odds. But that’s not part of this story, which focuses on Timo, the bonds he forms with the members of his team and, once the invaders are driven away, the distance that has opened up between him and his fellow Finns. Told by one of Norway’s most respected authors in Timo’s simple and understated voice, this is a tale of humanity and compassion in the midst of conflict, which radiates charm and pathos.
Little Nothing by Marisa Silver (Oneworld, £8.99)
In an unspecified Eastern European country around the turn of the last century, a dwarf girl, Pavla, is born to an ageing peasant couple after they turn to a witch to give them a child. As she reaches her teens, her parents, fearing she won’t be able to find a husband to care for her after they’re gone, allow her to be stretched on a rack. This brings about the first in a series of transformations, which sees Pavla joining a freak show and culminates in her becoming a wolf. Like the best fairy stories, Little Nothing has a lot thematically going on under the surface. There are obvious shades of Angela Carter to this metamorphosis story, though Silver handles the subject matter very much in her own way, writing rich prose in the realist tradition and striving to make her characters as threedimensional as possible, exploiting the allegorical possibilities of folk tales while challenging their accepted conventions.