Daily Mail



OLD GOD’S TIME by Sebastian Barry (Faber £18.99, 272 pp)

BARRY’S latest is a deep dive into the murky soul and psyche of a retired copper whose torments make Job’s look like a grazed knee.

Recently, Tom Kettle has found peace in a dilapidate­d lean-to conjoined to a Victorian castle overlookin­g the moody Irish waves. But that peace is shattered when two policemen come knocking with questions about a shocking and bloody cold case.

That Kettle has suffered a series of appalling tragedies rapidly becomes clear, although little else about this tale is, trauma having evidently scrambled Kettle’s consciousn­ess and resulted in various degrees of dissociati­on, amnesia and general unreliabil­ity.

There is mesmerisin­g stylistic brilliance here, and also daring — so dark is the territory, few would strike out into it. But by the time the deeply distressin­g coup de grace arrives — followed by another, and another — the reader’s ability to withstand is fragile.

Truth-telling (whatever that is) will set you free, this novel seems to suggest — but it’s also a lesson in the truism that humankind, readers included, can only bear so much reality.

GO AS A RIVER by Shelley Read (Doubleday £14.99, 320 pp)

WRITTEN by a Colorado resident of five generation­s, who dwells in the shadow of the mountains about which she so evocativel­y writes, this beautiful, compassion-filled debut follows one woman across four decades, from the years after World War II to the draft lotteries of Vietnam.

Victoria Nash is 17 when she crosses paths with Wil Moon, a young Native American man, and her life is changed for ever. Until this moment, she has been keeping house for her widowed, peach-farmer father, sadistic brother and disabled uncle. After, she is set on a journey that, while modest in terms of distance spanned, is spirituall­y and emotionall­y epic.

The Gunnison river that runs through the landscape of Victoria’s life provides the novel’s central metaphor, gathering debris that shapes its form and course, but always finding a way onwards. Don’t expect jaw-dropping twists, but they would in any case feel unnecessar­y to this hymn to the cycles of the natural world and testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

QUINN by Em Strang (Oneworld £14.99, 208pp)

STRANG is a poet whose debut novel, narrated by a convicted killer, was born out of the author’s work in prisons and a fascinatio­n with notions of redemption and justice.

As you might expect, it’s not easy reading. Quinn, we learn, murdered his childhood sweetheart and is steeped in slippery self-pity, selfdecept­ion and all-too-palpable psychic — and physical — pain.

But then he is offered mercy from the unlikelies­t of quarters — his victim’s terminally ill mother. In an act of radical self-empowermen­t and to free herself from gnawing hate, she invites Quinn to become her carer.

It might sound implausibl­e, but it’s perhaps the most convincing part of an arresting monologue that at its best has a Max Porter-like intensity, although it’s at times a little too opaquely lyrical for its own good.

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