Debut fiction round-up: New authors explore trappings of the city - and an Ikea wardrobe

 

In Friendship (Virago, £14.99), Emily Gould almost makes New York sound like a miserable place to live. At 30, Bev and Amy are "allies in a world full of idiots and enemies," as Gould describes with acerbic clarity the difficulty of finding your way through unfulfilling work, rising rents and underwhelming sex. She captures the way the terms of friendship shift but she's so determined to summarise generational woe that her characters come off as types.

Amy and Bev are broke but not poor, they want to be writers but they don't write, so is much at stake? When Bev considers having an abortion, religious pressures and America's healthcare system are neatly handled, but you still suspect that obscurity are the worst things that could happen to these two. They'll be ok, this novel is ok, but Gould shows that she can do better in her essay collection, And the Heart Says Whatever (Virago, £3.99), which tackles similar themes with more success and is available as an ebook.

Gould's NYC is still preferable to Mira Jacob's Seattle which, in The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing (Bloomsbury, £16.99), exists under a lullaby of "the soft, ceaseless, rhythmic kind of rain". Don't be put off by a drippy title and functional prose: this ambitious novel has plenty to offer as it switches from contemporary America to 1970s India and back again, with the protagonist, Amina, forced to confront family ghosts and personal demons. Jacob's characters make smart observations about immigrants' "lives of indentured gratitude" and the clever structure multiplies mysteries. Why has Amina's mother asked her to come home? What's at the root of her father's disaffection? How did her brother die? Tales of migration, understatement and loss add up to an intriguing drama.

Vanessa Manko's The Invention of Exile (Oneworld, £14.99) argues that home is wherever your loved ones are. Voronkov arrives in Connecticut as a young man in 1913 and falls in love with Julia but, seven years later, a paranoid American government deport him under suspicion of being an anarchist. Julia accompanies him to his homeland and the stateless couple narrowly avoid slaughter in revolutionary Russia before escaping to Turkey and, eventually, Mexico, where they have children.

If the plot sounds breathless, that's because Voronkov is tossed by history like "a pebble among waves", with places and people indifferent to his plight. Manko's prose and pacing are remarkably assured, rapid when traversing oceans and decades, unbearably tense when Voronkov attempts to re-enter America. "Paper is stronger than one realises," is a refrain based in part on the author's family history. With these indelible pages, Manko does her ancestors proud.

Who would have thought that a comedy that mixes flat-pack furniture with magic could tackle some of the biggest subjects of our time? With a big heart, a brilliant sense of humour and an excellent translator, that's what French writer Romain Puértolas achieves in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (trans. Sam Taylor, Harvill Secker, £12.99). When Aja, the fakir, travels from India to Paris, his extraordinary journey begins, as he finds love, befriends actresses and accumulates enemies across Europe. It's deliberately far-fetched but the novel's power resides in Aja's encounters with those who have left Africa for Europe's "good countries". Moved by their suffering, Aja regrets his fraudulence and considers fundamental questions: "Why are some people born here and others there?" A bestseller in France, its blend of compassion and wit deserves to win readers here, too.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power