Scarlett Thomas’ ‘quirky’ Oligarchy, The Topeka School by Ben Lerner and an unusual novel from Catherine Chung, this week’s best new fiction
Scarlett Thomas Canongate £14.99
Thomas’s quirky, darkly funny novel lifts the lid on the ways of teenage girls in the intense surroundings of a boarding school.
Funded by her newly discovered and obscenely rich father, Tash has left a poverty-stricken life in Russia and headed to England. At school she has to learn a new language and new social mores, which include pecking orders, eating disorders and Instagram poses.
When one of the extremely thin pupils dies in suspicious circumstances, Tash and her friends begin to investigate. The creepy headmaster is their prime suspect.
The Tenth Muse
Catherine Chung Little, Brown £16.99
Katherine, the narrator of this unusual novel, is an eminent American-Chinese academic fixated on the Holy Grail of mathematics – finding a solution to the enigmatic Riemann hypothesis.
She probably sounds like the storyteller from hell, but Chung is smart enough to keep the maths to a minimum and concentrate on the human ingredients in her tale: a young woman’s battle for acceptance in a male-dominated world; her misadventures in love; and her tortuous journey to track down her real parents in Germany.
The novel is certainly dextrous enough to appeal to maths geeks and general readers alike.
The Topeka School
Ben Lerner Granta £16.99
Adam Gordon is the son of psychologists who’ve washed up in America’s Midwest. With some effort, he’s managed to become one of the cool kids, but when he tries to draw oddball Darren into the fold, disaster looms.
Anchored in 1997, Lerner’s erudite third novel switches perspectives with effortless agility, showing what it means to raise a son in a culture of toxic masculinity.
Featuring betrayal, violence and Tupac Shakur, it’s at once zeitgeisty and involving, and demonstrates just how deep the roots of contemporary ills such as trolling go.