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.

Sal by Mick Kitson

Engaging modern wilderness survival novel with heart: Sal by Mick Kitson

Sal is a touching and distinctive novel about two sisters trying to survive in rural Scotland. Sal prepared for a long time for her escape into the wilderness with her little sister Peppa: watching YouTube videos, reading the SAS survival handbook, and getting supplies and tools from Amazon using stolen cards. Robert, her mum’s abusive boyfriend, didn’t notice the missing cards. Now Sal must use her knowledge of building shelter and skinning rabbits to look after Peppa, now that she’s freed her sister from the dangers of Robert. Just as long as nobody works out where they are and wants to split them up.

The novel is written from Sal’s point of view and creates a vivid sense of her voice and thoughts. She is a character who shows the force of sibling love and protectiveness, but at the same time, Sal and Peppa aren’t cloying or annoying, but real siblings who tease each other and have different interests and strengths. The narrative is made up of the minutiae of their wilderness life as well as larger things that threaten to change it, and it provides a tense atmosphere at times, as it is clear it will be hard for them to go on as they are.

Sal has some similarities to Emma Donoghue’s Room though the premise is fairly opposite, as it uses a distinctive character voice to show a fraught situation become normal. Its writing style makes it easy to get invested in the sisters and it is certainly an enjoyable and gripping read, though a little slower at parts. It is deeply set in its Scottish location, both the wilderness and the scheme where Sal and Peppa escaped from, and is an exciting new novel with heart.