Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, an adult fairy tale from Erin Morgenstern and Emma Forrest’s Royals, this week’s best new fiction
Elizabeth Strout Viking £14.99
Olive Kitteridge is as formidable a heroine as you’ll meet, so it’s no surprise that Strout felt compelled to return to her story over ten years after her first outing.
As crotchety and curmudgeonly as ever, the former maths teacher is now nearing her 80s, all but invisible to the wider world yet doing her best to navigate an unexpected second marriage, estrangement from her son and the daily marvels and mortifications of life in fictional Crosby, Maine.
The book’s resonant theme is loneliness, and while Olive may be hard to like, she remains impossible not to love.
The Starless Sea
Erin Morgenstern Harvill Secker £16.99
When ‘emerging media’ student Zachary Ezra Rawlins borrows a strange book from his Vermont university library, he is shocked to discover that Sweet Sorrows features him as a character and describes a mysterious incident from his past.
He investigates and ends up in an underground wonderland library where ‘story’ rules the roost. Morgenstern is a fabulist and this adult fairy tale includes flamboyant hat-tips to Borges, Calvino, Carroll, Susanna Clarke and many others.
Strictly for readers with a high tolerance for whimsy, industrial-strength quirk and metaphor layered on with a spade.
Emma Forrest Bloomsbury Circus £12.99
Royals is, at its heart, a grand romance – even if its central relationship is platonic. Eighteen-year-old Steven meets charismatic Jasmine in hospital. They’re seemingly from different worlds – he is from a working-class home in east London while she is an heiress.
Both are troubled, yet between them blossoms a friendship that’s arguably as transformative and tempestuous as any sexual relationship.
While neither the characters nor plot ring entirely true, Royals is an engaging read, and one that valuably disrupts conventional notions of love.