First thoughts

The Uncoupling. Meg Wolitzer Chatto & Windus; £12.99

A SPELL has been cast on unsuspecting women across Stellar Plains in New Jersey, instigating them to turn away from their partners.

The enigmatic occurrence coincides with the arrival of new drama teacher Fran Heller at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, whose decision to stage Aristophanes’s Lysistrata — a Greek comedy depicting women who make the unorthodox move to abstain from sex with hope to end an ongoing war — raises eyebrows.

Meg Wolitzer uses Lysistrata as the driving force to explore the complex nuances of human relationships in The Uncoupling.

Known for her works, such as Surrender, Dorothy (1998) and The Ten-Year Nap (2008), Wolitzer takes a close look at how sex (or abstinence) has an unnerving impact on the school’s teenage students and teachers, whose lives are suddenly thrown into a state of confusion.

She brilliantly blends wit, humour and compassion into the narrative, giving insight into a pleasant suburban town on the verge of a relationship meltdown and self-discovery.

The Reading Promise 3,218 Nights Of Reading With My Father, Alice Ozma. Hodder & Stoughton; £16.99, Kindle £8.99

Review: Natalie Bowen

WHEN Alice Ozma was nine, she and her single parent father made an agreement — he would read to her every night for 100 nights. As her father, James, was a school librarian and Ozma a bookish child, they soon had a new aim: 1,000 nights.

But The Streak, as they called it, eventually stretched to 3,218 nights. The pair only stopped when Ozma left for university.

The book recounts her childhood and includes her parents’ break-up, her mother’s overdose attempt, and dating, all weaved with literary references and reflections on her father’s idiosyncrasies.

While its narration is warm, humorous and self-deprecating, maintaining a childlike innocence and dripping with affection, Ozma does have an agenda.

The Reading Promise is a call to arms. She wants to inspire others to start their own Streaks — and has a good chance of success.

Carte Blanche. Jeffery Deaver. Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99; ebook £9.99

Review: Sandra Mangan

HE’S been on our bookshelves since 1953, but James Bond’s latest incarnation is a man planted firmly in the 21st century.

This time 007 is in the capable hands of best-selling American thriller writer Jeffery Deaver, the creator of Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance — and it’s a winning combination.

All the usual Bond traits are there: he’s still mad about fast cars (this time it’s a Bentley Continental GT), women and cocktails — but Deaver’s Bond is a man at home with his time, who uses apps from a device resembling an iPhone to eavesdrop on opponents.

It’s also fitting that the arch-villain of the book, the wonderfully named Severan Hydt, is head of a recycling conglomerate ... a dirty business if ever there was one!

A fast-paced, well-plotted novel that will please Bond fans, and Deaver lovers.

Quiet lives in Bombay, Saraswati Park. Anjali JosephFourth Estate; £7.99 ebook £4.99

Review: Alannah Hopkin

ANJALI JOSEPH’S first novel, Saraswati Park, is set in a fictional suburb of Bombay. Joseph has recently been named as one of the 20 best British novelists under 40, having moved to Britain from Bombay while at school.

It was written while Anjali Joseph was studying creative writing at the University of East Anglia where the well-known Bombay novelist Amit Chaudhuri was her tutor.

The novel opens as Mohan Karekar is walking from his place of work as a letter-writer outside Bombay’s GPO to VT station for his train home. He stops to browse the stalls of the second-hand booksellers, and there is the first of many descriptions of the beauty of Bombay, recalling the work of Joseph’s mentor, Chaudhuri: “The heat lingered, but already the light was changing: it was finer, more golden. From the sea, at the end of the road, there spread a pale brightness, as though the street and the bookstalls were a mirage that would disappear with the sunset.”

Mohan is an amiable middle-aged man, with vague literary yearnings. His children have left home for the US, and his wife, Lakshmi, fills the vacuum by watching TV soap operas. Every morning Mohan makes a cup of ginger tea for his wife, and leaves it beside her bed. Every morning she wakes to the sight of a cup of cold ginger tea, something that she finds disproportionately annoying, an indication of the cooling of affection between the couple.

One day Mohan returns home early, greatly distressed, as he has witnessed the second-hand booksellers being forcibly evicted from their traditional place. His wife has news to distract him: his nephew Ashish needs a place to stay in Bombay while he retakes his exams, and his sister has asked if they can put him up.

Ashish, who is gay, needs to retake his exams because his love life has been interfering with his studies, and he is less than thrilled to be exiled to his uncle and aunt’s modest quarters in suburban Saraswati Park. Ashish’s life centres on his mobile phone and his affairs, but he is an amiable fellow, and his questions reawaken Mohan’s literary ambitions. Lakshmi’s prolonged absence following the death of her brother gives Mohan more time to write, and his new efforts are rewarded by publication.

This is a quiet novel, where such story as there is comes second to its descriptions of everyday life in Bombay: the heat and light, the suburban flora and fauna and the changing seasons.

It also quietly stresses the huge gap between the traditional lives of Mohan and Lakshmi’s generation, and that of their children, who commute not between the centre of Bombay and Saraswati Park, but to their postgraduate studies in the US, via Dubai.

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