Reviews | BOOKS

SHORT STORIES LARA WILLIAMS Treats (Freight Books) ●●●●●

Once in a while a small publisher will bequeath you a wee gem, and Lara Williams’ debut collection, Treats, is one such book.

Published by Glasgow’s Freight Books, Treats chronicles the milestones of twentysomething life in the 21st Century, and its perils taking in experiences ranging from graduate job-hunting to new motherhood,

with all of the tough decisions, break-ups, and more of life’s detours. Williams’ articulately observed scenes capture the throes of early adulthood and tableaux of life at the very moment of change. Her mastery is demonstrated through her use of second-

person narration and risky plays with potentially clichéd subject matter. Staccato stories sit alongside more traditional narrative styles like that of the title story 'Treats', which has a distinctly novelistic feel. Joining the tales are remarkable turns of phrase and

evocative prose as the author laces the narrative with hints of her characters’ deepest desires. The through-line between these tales and varied voices is an ability to imbue timeless life experiences with contemporary meaning. These are characters who can’t look themselves in the eye. They’re women who worry about the space they inhabit, and men whose anxieties are expressed in sneezing fits. Deep characterisations allow the reader to forge great empathy for the personalities whose stories, at between three and six pages, feel eerily complete. With echos of Noah Baumbach’s youthful existentialism and

shades of Janice Galloway’s visceral prose, Lara Williams is one to watch. (Nicola Balkind) Out now.

MEMOIR CHITRA RAMASWAMY Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy (Saraband) ●●●●● WWII FICTION CHRIS CLEAVE Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Sceptre) ●●●●●

Chitra Ramaswamy’s touching collection of essays on pregnancy is a far cry from the glossy, sterile magazine covers of ever-smiling, perfectly bumped mothers-to-be. Expecting is a warts-and-all tourists’ guidebook to the beautiful, terrifying, emotional and reflective voyage from woman to mother. Firmly-based in reality the Edinburgh of her home; the London of her childhood; the Western Isles of her holidays she negotiates these well-trodden places as a stranger, physically and emotionally changing over the nine months of her pregnancy. From her initial shock and disbelief in a rainy Scottish winter to a complete physical and mental breakdown in an idyllic woodland setting, the reader accompanies her on a most personal journey.

Beautiful comparisons to her favourite works of art and locations the world over make this engrossing read relatable and pleasurable to those with and without children. During the final passionate and visceral chapter, the reader is alongside, cheering her on. (Jessica Rodgers) Out Thu 7 Apr.

Chris Cleave has gained something of a reputation as a dramatic, compelling storyteller thanks to his successful novels, The Other Hand and Gold. Everyone Brave is Forgiven follows in this vein, as it tells the story of Mary North, who heads to the war office a mere 45 minutes after World War II is declared to offer her assistance. To Mary's annoyance, she is resigned to the classroom rather than sent to the front line, but it is there that she meets Tom, who becomes her lover. Through Tom's soldier roommate Alistair, the two are exposed to the horrors and realities of life on the battlefield.

With these characters, Cleave illustrates various conceptions of war: Mary viewing it as an idealised, patriotic call to aid, Tom as a fool’s errand to be avoided, and Alistair a traumatic event. Cleave convincingly presents these opposing views and seamlessly shifts between them. This is a powerful, emotional read, which skilfully balances heartwarming romance with dark, gritty wartime truths. In this novel, war is complex, divisive, and relentlessly real. (Rebecca Monks) Out Thu 21 Apr.

FEMINIST COMEDY SARA PASCOE Animal The Autobiography of a Female Body (Faber & Faber) ●●●●●

Rare is the acclaimed stand-up that doesn't get a book deal these days. But with typical ambition, unflinching intimacy and comic verve, Sara Pascoe has striven to make her debut an all-purpose memoir, wide-ranging anthropological summary and feminist treatise on the ways society inhibits and impacts women's lives. Expanding on the themes of sexuality

and body confidence tackled in her stage shows, Animal is by turns off- handedly funny, insightful and frank, with Pascoe exploring topics like self-harm, abortion and sexual consent from the origins of personal experience. Thoroughly researched and persuasively argued, with the benefit of distance, she understandably finds it easier to make humans’ ingenious sexual evolution more amusing than such ongoing horrors as genital mutilation.

There's a timeliness underlying the later chapters, not least as Pascoe passionately believes in openness and discourse for empowering all genders, even if some of her flow is disrupted in her efforts to be comprehensive. (Jay Richardson) Out Thu 5 May.

HISTORICAL FICTION NEIL MACKAY The Wolf Trial (Freight Books) ●●●●●

Set in Bideburg, Germany in 1563 this historical epic centres on the trial of serial killer Peter Stumpf, a husband and father whose cannibalistic murders led him to be tried as a werewolf. Rather than the predictable course of

examining the manner and motivation of Stumpf's decades of killing, MacKay exposes the brutal violence of seemingly ordinary folk. In a novel not for the faint hearted, characters witness and perpetrate horrific acts. Individuals are butchered, castrated, burnt or skinned alive; children are trampled by religious armies and women raped in front of baying crowds. The novel is recounted by Willie Lessinger, apprentice to lawyer and rationalist Paulus Melchior, who leads the trial.

MacKay is a gripping storyteller and

the tale is most enjoyable when the court rings with Paulus's clever rhetoric, championing logic over superstition. In a story interspersed with fables of infanticide and dark truths about crimes committed in the name of Christianity, Paulus and Willie's friendship and quest for justice are a lone beacon of goodness in a book of horrors. (Rowena McIntosh) Out Thu 21 Apr.

7 Apr–2 Jun 2016 THE LIST 61