The eighth novel by dishevelled comedian Watson concerns James Chiltern, who, as it opens, is on an overnight train to Edinburgh, from which he sends a text to everyone on his contacts list announcing his intention to kill himself, then shuts off his phone. Though no-one knows where he is, the recipients of the text, which include his sister in Australia, his ex-girlfriend in Germany, his flatmate in London and a mate ferrying a DJ to Newcastle, frantically set about trying to track him down before it’s too late. As he explores how they react to the news and why, and delves into James’s past to show how he’s reached this decision, Watson reins in his natural inclination for comedy, hitting a tone that never feels inappropriate or jarring. Refreshingly, he also takes a positive view of the ubiquity of mobile phone technology, portraying it as a lifeline rather than a ball and chain.
THE MOUNTAINS SING
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
In 1970s Hanoi, 12-year-old Hương and her grandmother, Trần Diệu Lan, take shelter from a bombing raid, and Dieu begins to share with Hương her memories of their family’s past: of the Japanese occupation of the 1940s, the famine and drastic land reforms that followed and the terrible ordeals she suffered at the hands of the communists. We’re accustomed to accounts of the war in Vietnam that focus on its impact on the American soldiers who fought there. The Mountains Sing, Mai’s first novel written in English rather than Vietnamese, shows the other side, bringing home to its readers the devastating effect of decades of conflict and strife on a country and its people. Inspired by the experiences of her own family, and backed up by extensive research, it’s a testament to their endurance; a harrowing novel which nevertheless finds hope in the author’s faith in reconciliation and understanding.
Luath Press, £9.99
As the 20th century dawns, Hebridean fisherman Faroe MacLeod unveils his new house, a sturdy structure fit for a new age. But even as he gathers his family under its roof for the first time, he senses that this will be the last time they’re all together. His hunch proves to be correct, and this haunting saga follows them over 100 years as they weather the effects of emigration, war, economic depression, disease and the search for a missing grandchild. The panoramic scope of the story is presented largely through the eyes of those who remain on the island, a creative decision by STV news presenter MacKay that works superbly – as does the family tree device at the start of each chapter that keeps us clued in as to who everyone is. Ultimately it’s a reflective, often moving, reminder of life’s preciousness and the importance of grabbing moments of happiness as they pass by.