A powerful bunch this month, which all feature memorable and distinctive characters and interesting narratives. I’ve cheated and put a graphic anthology that came out in June on the bottom of the list as I only got my copy a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to share it with more people.
Hold by Michael Donkor – A fantastic debut novel about two very different teenage girls coming of age, Hold tells the story of Belinda, who is summoned from Ghana to London to try and bring Amma out of her shell. Full of memorable characters and vividly accurate south London description.
Oreo by Fran Ross – Reissued this month but originally published in 1974, Oreo is a clever, satirical tale of a girl looking for her dad.
We Shall Fight Until We Win by 404 Ink and BHP Comics – A graphic anthology published for the centenary of the first wave of women in the UK, it tells the stories of political women, both well- and lesser- known. A powerful read and one to gift people in your life.
Confessions of the Fox is a transformative, metafictional piece of historical fiction that takes the life of Jack Sheppard—infamous thief and gaol-breaker who provided inspiration for John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera—and tells it afresh through a mysterious manuscript. A precarious professor, V. Roth, discovers a manuscript in a university clear out. The manuscript tells the story of Jack Sheppard, a transgender man indentured to a carpenter who turns thief and prison-breaker, and his love Bess Khan, who escaped the draining of the fenlands. Together they fight to uncover a strange secret that leads back to Jonathan Wild, Thief-Catcher General. However, the manuscript may not be as first appears, or so Roth seems to think through footnotes that lead the reader on another quest altogether, one that considers freedom, gender, and the archival text.
The novel blends a kind of eighteenth-century style—full of bawdy slang and thieves’ cant—with academic footnotes and personal reflection. Rosenberg’s Sheppard is a man motivated by love and freedom, in contrast to Roth, who talks of a lost ex and imprisonment within a corporate university system. And yet, Roth identifies with Sheppard, and the action of identifying with a subject of research becomes something else fictionalised within the novel.
Rosenberg’s novel is a difficult one to categorise. On the one hand, it is powerful historical fiction that carves a non-white, non-cis space in a certain point in eighteenth-century history. On the other, it is a postmodern consideration of oppression, theory, the archive, and what authenticity could possibly be. Within both of these strands, Confessions of the Fox fights for the untold story, for over throwing the masters, and for telling diverse stories for the people who have been left out of them. It is an exciting, powerful, postmodern book that forces the reader to look beyond its pages, but also keeping an adventure story of crime and love at its heart.