THE INVISIBLE CROWD
Ellen Wiles (Harper Collins, £8.99)
HAVING known nothing but civil war, and blacklisted in his home country, Yonas Kelati has fled war-torn Eritrea for Britain. His asylum case lands on the desk of Jude Munroe, who has only a week or so to prepare for his hearing. If Jude is to defend Yonas’ claim in court, she will have to know as much as she can about his circumstances, so she goes looking for the people whose lives Yonas has touched since he was brought into the country by a people trafficker who put him to work in a shellfish factory, and she lets their voices tell the story. Drawing on her experience as a human rights lawyer, Wiles follows Yonas through every stage of the system, showing the human story behind the cases that go before British courts. On the one hand, The Invisible Crowd is an indictment of a dehumanising system, but it’s also an optimistic novel in praise of compassion and understanding.
HUMAN RELATIONS & OTHER DIFFICULTIES
Mary-Kay Wilmers (Profile, £12.99)
AS one of the founders of the London Review of Books, and its editor-inchief since 1992, Mary-Kay Wilmers’ contributions to its pages are legendary. A selection of them is reproduced here, plucked from 40 years of essays, book reviews and obituaries. Each one is a springboard for forensic discussion of the subject in question, whether that’s the narcissism of Jean Rhys, the lovers of Vita SackvilleWest, Patty Hearst or the surprising connection between an 1858 divorce case and the discredited science of phrenology. Wilmers is highly literate, informed, aphoristic and, as John Lanchester points out in his introduction, keen to show both sides of an argument, but a bookful of these pieces is perhaps easier to admire than enjoy. Aimed at the LRB readership, their tone might be a bit staid for less committed readers, the understated wit a little on the donnish side. But one is left in no doubt about Wilmers’ fearsome intelligence.
Janet Todd (Fentum Press, £8.99) Septuagenarian author and academic Janet Todd kept a diary through her cancer radiotherapy, as a “verbal sedative”. As a lifelong lover of literature she’s not surprised to find her mind filling with apposite aphorisms, anecdotes and phrases from Milton, Austen and Larkin during her daily sessions being pounded by radiation. But she’s not used to introspection, so hasn’t anticipated that these thoughts will be accompanied by memories that come unbidden, of school in Wales, teaching in America, stewed pets in Ghana. Worse, her father is losing his grip on life in the same hospital. Disarmingly frank and unsentimental, Todd’s diary doesn’t shy away from the ravages of the disease and its treatment, and neither does her stoicism and black humour completely mask the pain and fear caused by her body rebelling against her.