Books round up


Clare Sambrook

Canongate, 9.99

Sambrook's debut novel is narrated by nine-and-a-half-year-old Harry, whose family life starts to spiral out of control when his little brother disappears on a school trip. Given its subject matter, it would be difficult for the book not to be moving, and Sambrook is better at the subtle shifts and thoughtless insensitivities than the occasionally melodramatic plot developments. The child narrator allows an importantly oblique presentation of the unthinkable, rather than relying on devices more normally associated with crime genres.

Harry's voice is suitably convincing, with a fair amount of toilet humour and playground patois. This is an assured piece of work, balancing sentiment with irreverence.

Also try: Neil Cross, Under the Sun

AD 500

Simon Young

Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 14.99

The lack of stories from the so-called Dark Ages often hampers early medieval history. Young's elegant solution is to invent a travelogue, supposedly narrating a sixth-century Byzantine embassy to Britain and Ireland.

The genuine linguistic, military and archaeological evidence is woven into the account, and Young has a lot of fun, not only with the more outr customs (Irish nipple-sucking rituals, the Welsh obsession with Arthur) but also with the haughty tone of the Greeks, shocked by the barbarism around them.

Genuine figures such as Taliesin, Columba and Gildas are introduced neatly - along with a swim-on part for the Loch Ness Monster. Enjoyable and ingenious, this breathes life into the period.

Also try: Danny Danziger and John Gillingham, 1215


Helena Nelson

HappenStance, 3

This pamphlet announces its distinctive wryness and sharpened wit from the outset, quoting a rejection slip from a literary magazine. The ensuing poems glimmer with mordant asides and a daring approach to language - especially in the wonderful poem 'Emidepic'.

Nelson offers a satirical swipe at that redundant clich about "poetic voice" and, true to her beliefs, the poems range across a pleasing variety of forms: free verse, rhyme, parodies of Emily Dickinson and Stevie Smith, and a bravura performance - a poem in the form of a Virgin Rail announcement.

"I think I will become a poet / so that I can bore people", Nelson writes. I'm afraid she has failed.

Also try: Eddie Gibbons, The Republic of Ted