Quick book picks for March

The weather hasn’t exactly become Spring-like yet and though I did tire of seeing endless ‘Snow day? Read one of our newly published books’ tweets (this may have been because I was at work), that was also the only idea I had for introducing this month’s new books. A rich bunch this month, with links to full reviews as usual (if you like short/flash/‘damp gothic’ fiction, I advise you to not skip past Mayhem & Death).

  • Sal by Mick Kitson – A different kind of wilderness survival story, this novel follows two sisters who escape their mum’s abusive boyfriend by following survival tips that Sal, the elder sister, learnt off YouTube. Powerful with a vivid voice.
  • The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells – Translated from German into English, this book travels across Germany, France, and Switzerland to show snapshots from the often melancholy lives of three siblings in a film-like way.
  • Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala – A memorable and timely novel about telling the truth, friendship, race, and sexuality. Niru is a top student at his Washington D.C. school, but he’s keeping a secret from his attentive and proud parents, and when they find out he is gay, the fallout will change everything.
  • The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby – A literary thriller set between Oxford, Berlin, and New York, this has dashes of The Secret History, Patricia Highsmith, and the Netflix series The Good Place and will appeal to those who like dark fiction centred around intellectual obsession and twisted relationships.
  • Mayhem & Death by Helen McClory – A collection of short pieces of writing and one novella which are filled with mystery, sea, birds, gothic, and irregularity. Read for the atmosphere, a fantastic poem about loneliness, and the sense of short writing that is exciting and fresh.
  • The Trick To Time by Kit de Waal – After My Name Is Leon, it was exciting to see another novel by Kit de Waal; this one focuses on grief and life spanning across decades that will appeal to fans of everyday character-led fiction.

Mayhem & Death by Helen McClory

Unceasing atmosphere: Mayhem & Death by Helen McClory

Mayhem & Death is a collection filled with sea, mystery, birds, darkness, and hints of light. It is made up of short pieces—many only a couple of pages long—and also a fantastic closing novella, Powdered Milk, which is atmospheric and very fitting to close the collection. Other highlights amongst the lyrical writing include: ‘The Inciting Incident’, which feels like a lens to view telling stories and what you do and don’t say; ‘Folk Noir’, which gives snippets of a countryside noir that makes you want more; ‘A Voice Spoke To Me At Night’, which features a mystery voice and has a strangely relatable narrator; and ‘Take Care, I Love You’, which is a hauntingly good poem about loneliness.

McClory’s collection makes me want to use the term “damp gothic”: it is suffused with an eerie sense of water and nature, whilst also being very much about people and the modern day. A lot of the stories have a kind of looming mystery, even (or indeed especially) the very short ones, many of which make you want to immediately go back and read them again, to take in the phrases and the atmosphere. There is a lot of strangeness and hints of unpredictable, but also somehow these pieces of writing feel very fitting for the contemporary world.

Mayhem & Death is the kind of collection you’ll want to give to writer friends and people who love lyrical and strange books. The shorter pieces create tiny atmospheres and stories in concise and clever ways and the novella Powdered Milk is difficult to stop reading as you find yourself drawn into a claustrophobic world.