Michel Houellebecq’s ‘important’ Serotonin, a hypnotic novel by Mary Costello and Nell Zink’s witty Doxology, this week’s best new fiction
Michel Houellebecq William Heinemann £20
Any new book by Houellebecq is guaranteed to make waves, and Serotonin is no exception. The main character is a middle-aged official in the Paris ministry of agriculture who returns to his native Normandy to find traditional rural life under brutal onslaught from the forces of free trade and globalisation.
Is it surprising that farmers take equally brutal reprisals? Throw in the hero’s disaffection with women, not to mention his dependence on radical new anti-depressants, and you have a bleak, uncompromising novel.
But it also feels like an important one, asking some necessary questions in characteristically mordant fashion.
The River Capture
Mary Costello Canongate £14.99
Luke O’Brien has left Dublin, a failed relationship and a teaching job, and headed home to his family’s land on the bend of the Sullane River.
He’s mentally fragile, haunted by the O’Briens’ former glory days and obsessed with James Joyce’s life and work. Hope for the future comes when Ruth, a young woman, turns up on his doorstep.
The pair embark on an affair but the past soon impinges darkly on the present. It’s a hypnotic read revealing how the ebb and flow of memory, family loyalty and love can disrupt the current of a life.
Nell Zink Fourth Estate £14.99
Zink’s fifth novel follows a New York family from Eighties punk to Trump.
Pam and Daniel dabble in the indie music scene, stumble into parenthood and tap their muso mate Joe as babysitter. He’s enjoying fame when a smaller horror befalls him amid the monstrous one on 9/11.
The couple’s daughter dominates the book’s second half, working for a Green candidate through the shocks of the 2016 US election. Zink’s eye is keen throughout this sad, savvy, witty chronicle.