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The Independent Culture
2 Novel Without a Name by Duong Huo Thuong, Picador pounds 5.99. Images of the American experience in Vietnam are still imprinted on our collective consciousness. This novel - translated from the Vietnamese, banned in Vietnam but already lauded on its publication in America - shows the war from the other side. The author herself led a Communist Youth Brigade to the most heavily bombarded front where she spent the next seven years living in tunnels and underground shelters alongside the North Vietnamese troops. Her experience vividly informs the story of Quan, a young North Vietnamese soldier making his way home through the jungle but also completing a spiritual journey from idealism to disillusionment. The sense of despair is profound as happy childhood memories jostle with present horrors: the coffin-making detail sleeping in their coffins, orangutan soup (the paws floating "like the hands of babies"), the accidental manslaughter of friends. The devastation of civilian life is as stark as the plight of the soldiers themselves and their dislocation from all they once held dear. Eight years earlier the war seemed their chance for resurrection but instead they are desperate, sick and starving. This looks like a classic of war fiction.

2 Dance With Me by Louise Doughty, Touchstone pounds 9.99. Crazy Paving was one of the best first novels of last year, but Doughty's new book is more ambitious in structure and tone, part psychological thriller and part ghost story. When Bet's boyfriend Peter dies, having changed his will entirely in her favour only the previous week, her legacy is not as straightforward as it seemed. Moving into his house, she begins to discover how little she really knew him. Her story is intercut with that of a second woman who is forced to confront other kinds of ghosts and fantasies, this time in the dilapidated office block where she works: the silences at the end of the phone and a shadowy figure who walks the basement. This is a compelling novel about madness and dissociation written as a fiction-within-a-fiction. It has strong central women characters, although - it turns out - one of them is a figment of the other's imaginings. The peripheral characters are also well-rounded, and it is overall intriguing, cunningly wrought and atmospheric.

Fanny Blake