Harvill Secker

Cover image for Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane

Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane: A startlingly good debut

I first noticed Ailsa McFarlane’s Highway Blue in The Observer’s ’10 Best Debuts of 2021’ feature at the beginning of the year. Inevitably, given my weakness for first novels, several titles expanded my TBR list but McFarlane’s is the first I’ve read. Highway Blue follows Anne Marie and her estranged husband Cal who are on …

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Twelve Nights by Urs Faes (transl. Jamie Lee Searle): Christmas is coming…

Given my bah humbug attitude, readers are unlikely to have expected a Christmas read from me but I couldn’t resist a literary trip to the snow-covered German landscape with Urs Faes’ Twelve Nights, set not far from the Black Forest. Beginning just before Christmas, Faes’ brief novella tells the story of Manfred who’s returned home …

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The Gracekeepers by Lirsty Logan: A rattling good tale, beautifully told

There’s been a great deal of eager anticipation for Kirsty Logan’s debut in my neck of the Twitter woods. Not the rather over-excited ‘whoop, whoop’ that can be a bit trying – more a steady hum, some of it coming from a friend who runs the Bristol Short Story Prize whose opinion I trust. Logan …

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This Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle (transl. Martin Aitkin): Quietly low-key but curiously gripping

Don’t you just love that jacket? Having sounded off about the ghastliness of the Aren’t We Sisters? cover a few weeks ago I had to mention it. Brightly coloured, eye-catching and surprisingly well suited to what’s inside it’s perfect, well for me at least. This Should be Written in the Present Tense is a quiet, …

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I Refuse by Per Petterson (transl. Don Bartlett): Best read when cheerful

You don’t read Per Petterson for his cheeriness but I Refuse seemed even more sombre than usual to me. In it two men, close friends when they were young, meet briefly one morning by coincidence. Expensively dressed, Tommy has just parked his car when he spots Jim, shabby in his old reefer coat. Each recognises …

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Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes by Per Petterson (transl. Don Bartlett): Growing up in 1960s Norway

Those who’ve read and enjoyed Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses may be pleased to hear that his 1987 debut has been translated into English for the first time. Petterson is a master of the less is more writing style that I so admire and Don Bartlett has proved adept at keeping to the spirit of …

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