Father and son relationships, the immigrant experience and autobiography have figured strongly in almost all of Kureishi's fiction. In this memoir cum biography of his father, structured around his reading of his father's own unpublished autobiographical novel, An Indian Adolescence, Kureishi tries to tackle these subjects head on. And fails. "I have to say I don't know what sort of book I am making here," he confesses, "as I spin my words out of his words, stories out of other stories." It's an erratic, impressionistic, thinking-out-loud kind of a story, in which swirl fragments of family history, memories, feelings and regrets; at the end of which he concludes that "a human being - your parents and then yourself - is profoundly unknowable."
In An Indian Adolescence Kureishi discovers a version of his father - the one with youthful dreams and passionate desires- which is completely unknown to him; unrecognisable as the man measuring out his days as a frustrated writer, holed up in suburban Bromley. It explains much of Kureishi's own upbringing. His father required him to be successful but "was afraid of me becoming too powerful or rivalrous". Despite all this obviously Oedipal conflict, Kureishi's own fatherhood gives him the expected perspective, and his assessment of his father is ultimately a loving one. So he does well to avoid being mawkish, and My Ear at His Heart is the most honest and eloquent piece of literary navel-gazing that he's yet written.
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (HARPER PERENNIAL £7.99)
Alice works in the Ideation and Design department of PopCo, the world's third-largest toy company. Her co-workers are the kind of über-cool young creatives such as you'd find in a book by the dotcom chronicler Po Bronson, but Alice isn't really one of them. She has her own little brand-cluster, making old-fashioned toys for studious children who want to play at being spies or codebreakers. She dresses in a kind of geek-chic, but really she's just a geek; raised in a TV-free, Enid Blyton-ish idyll by her grandparents, who passed on to her their love of mathematics, crosswords, codebreaking, and cricket.
For reasons that are mostly to do with a 400-year-old treasure map, some of the book is set in Alice's childhood. But most of it is set during an ongoing seminar and brainstorming session at a "thought camp" on Dartmoor, which the company hopes will originate inspiration for a killer product to capture the elusive teenage girl market. There the plucky, proper and ever curious Alice learns that conventional logic is often suspended in the corporate world, and it can be a sometimes frightening place.PopCo is, then, self-consciously a novel about ideas and their power. Its richly allusive, freewheeling and, in the end, enormously satisfying narrative riffs on popular and corporate culture, maths and cryptanalysis, like a dreamland collaboration between Douglas Coupland, Naomi Klein and Douglas R Hofstadter.
Empire Adrift by Patrick Wilcken (BLOOMSBURY £8.99)
Towards the end of 1807 the Portuguese prince regent Dom João conceded that he couldn't sustain Portugal's neutrality in the Napoleonic wars any longer. But, faced with the choice of British occupation or a French invasion, he found an extraordinary third way and set sail for his largest colony, Brazil, taking with him the entire royal court and government and a 10,000-strong retinue - effectively Portugal's entire ruling class and their servants. His decision reversed the natural order of things, which was for wealth to flow from the outlying colonies to the centre of empire. When the Portuguese royal court arrived in Rio de Janeiro, "they stood before their colonial vassals not as remote overlords, but as émigrés in need of succour."
Over the following decade Rio was completely remodelled from a rough garrison port into a metropolitan imperial capital, replete with a new palace and government buildings, theatres and an opera house, library and botanical garden. Before long its wealth and splendour far outshone Lisbon, and although modernity has since redesigned Rio, the legacy of this unlikely episode in its history informs much of the way Brazil is today. Wilcken's exemplary piece of historical writing makes light reading of some involved economic, political and military manoeuvres, and his thorough contemporary research has resulted in a detailed and bright depiction of a story of empire, surreally condensed into 10 years in the life of a single city.
The Last Book You Read and other stories by Ewan Morrison (CHROMA £9.99)
Ewan Morrison's debut is a collection of stories about anomie, cynicism, loneliness and sex. In the title story a smart metropolitan woman with a good job, good apartment and cool clothes has completed an internet dating profile of herself by leaving every question blank. She can't think of a single interesting thing about herself: "Online dating isn't dating - it's market research into whether life is worth living." In another, two people have planned an adulterous encounter in the kind of hotel that charges by the hour. He's brought champagne and she's brought new underwear but they're unable to sustain the fantasy. It's clichéd and sordid, and they're suddenly embarrassed. Morrison anatomises their awkward sex and uncomfortable silences in excruciating detail. Another woman, a primary school teacher, only ever gets to have sex at four in the morning, once she's been rejected by all the younger men in the clubs and, drunk and lonely, has to settle for the only man she knows who's just as desperate. He always makes her do it lying face down.
And so on. Male and female; straight, gay and bi; young and old; American and Scottish, they're all looking for the same thing: a connection with someone, a new feeling. They're vivid characters and their voices are all subtly different, but they all have an author's sensibility and that's their problem. They can see through everyone around them, understand too clearly their own motivations, and know how every story ends. Beyond that, Morrison leaves you some searing emotional passages and a handful of precious light moments.
Crimes Against Nature by Robert F Kennedy Jr (PENGUIN £7.99)
Pulling no punches in his critique of the environmental policies that George W Bush pursued during his first term in office, Robert F Kennedy Jr concludes that Bush single-handedly poses, "the greatest threat to the global environment", and "will go down as the worst environmental president in our nation's history". He charges Bush with plundering the world's natural resources in order to line the pockets of his cronies, the CEOs of petrochemical, energy and manufacturing companies, many of whom helped fund his election campaign and now form part of his cabinet. His administration instigated rollbacks of more than 300 American environmental laws in its first term, allowing more greenhouse gasses to be emitted and pesticides sprayed, while providing more tax breaks to the polluters and reducing the burden on them to clean up after themselves. Getting all that past the voters required a lot of "greenwashing" - the suppression and manipulation of scientific data, and lobbying by phoney pressure groups employing some rather sinister Orwellian doublespeak.
Kennedy is a prominent environmental lawyer, and he's built up a seemingly watertight case against Bush. He's not afraid to resort to emotive language, regularly invoking the children of America, and even once or twice the name of his assassinated uncle. But there's a swathe of statistics and facts backed up by more than 50 pages of citations; indeed his argument has a level of detail which will probably bore the general, non-American reader.
Nova Scotia ed Neil Williamson and Andrew J Wilson (CRESCENT £9.99)
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term that covers science fiction, fantasy, horror and alternative history. For the editors of this eye-opening anthology it neatly meshes with a tradition of imaginative and visionary Scottish storytelling that originated in Celtic mythology, was continued by Burns, Louis Stevenson and Conan Doyle, and is upheld today by Alasdair Gray, Iain M Banks, and by the 22 writers who have contributed to Nova Scotia. And a high proportion of these stories directly engage with that tradition. Witches such as had tormented Macbeth and Burns' Tam O'Shanter make mischief in a modern office in Andrew C Ferguson's sly comic story, while Andrew J Wilson's miniature sees the spirit of Burns himself living on, literally, in Billy the Kid and Jack the Ripper. A J McIntosh's inspired and hilarious piece of literary ventriloquism has Boswell recounting an episode that didn't make the final cut of his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides, in which a sozzled Dr Johnson and he are accosted and insulted by extra-terrestrial visitors to the Highlands, late one night. The story which projects a Scottish sensibility the furthest is "A Case of Consilience", by the sf writer Ken MacLeod - a witty, playful piece about religion, politics and semiotics in which a Presbyterian minister tries preaching to an alien fungus on a space-station somewhere in the outer orbit of Neptune. There's also an extract from the new novel by Matthew Fitt, whose dense cyberpunk sf seems all the more alien and unusual for being rendered in a thick Scots accent. A truly weird and frequently wonderful line-up.Reuse content