Inside the Whale, By Jennie Rooney

Liverpool lawyer Jennie Rooney was in her late twenties when she started writing in her lunch hour. Her funny and tender debut, set in sunny South London and Forties Cairo, is an impressively mature story of wartime separation and lost love. When her pigeon-fancier boyfriend, Michael, leaves to fight in North Africa, Stevie is left behind working in the canteen of the local Sun-Pat peanut factory. Michael doesn't return, and Stevie marries.

Decades later, the paths of the quirky star-crossed lovers intersect. In a series of short and vivid chapters, Rooney darts nimbly between time frames and characters. Her quirky descriptive flourishes lend an optimistic sheen to life's grimmer impasses. Even Peckham perks up under her sunny gaze in a novel shortlisted for this year's Costa first-novel prize.

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