A former detective in a Japanese police force, facing problems both at home and at work, finds his obsession with an unsolved case leading him ever closer to a conspiracy. It’s a hoary old premise, but given a fresh spin by Japanese crime writer Hideo Yokoyama, who peppers the narrative with intriguing and not altogether flattering insights into his country’s culture and bureaucracy. Subtlety is not one of the author’s strengths, and while Six Four does - eventually – deliver with the shocking twists, at more than 600 pages, it takes a frustratingly long time for them to arrive.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Jonathan Cape, £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Review by Heather Doughty
Eileen is Ottessa Moshfegh’s second novel and after her highly acclaimed debut, McGlue, this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. The titular character describes one week in her life, aged 24, just before Christmas, 1964. A tightly wound and unstable woman, her narration is somewhat unreliable but all the more thrilling to read. She lives with her alcoholic father and spends her days working in a juvenile correctional facility. The novel describes one fateful day where Eileen leaves her town in the bitterly cold winter without warning and never returns. Give it time and this book will almost definitely win you over. Embrace its unsettling hedonism.
At The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, And Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell. Chatto & Windus, £16.99 (£10.99). Review by Dan Brotzel
Sarah Bakewell is the author of How To Live, in which she mined the essays of Montaigne to create a self-help manual for the 21st century. Here, she goes in for another popularising assault on the French highbrow. The focus is Jean-Paul Sartre and his lifelong companion-of-ideas Simone de Beauvoir, along with co-stars Heidegger, Camus and Merleau-Ponty. Baker presents a beguiling blend of anecdote, quotation and philosophical explication, in which de Beauvoir emerges as the under-sung heroine. Existentialist writing frequently has a kind of vertiginous poetry about it - and Bakewell’s is as rich and satisfying as a slice of your granny’s fruitcake.
David Astor by Jeremy Lewis. Jonathan Cape, £25 (ebook £12.99). Review by Natalie Bowen
This 337-page biography of the long-time Observer editor is not an easy read. The challenge comes from the sheer volume of information Lewis needs to get across. Astor was a younger, well-connected son of American-born politicians known to be in the “Cliveden set”, who took over editing the family newspaper after the Second World War. The number of famous names is borderline overwhelming. Yet this means the book puts Astor’s life in context of world events, explaining how he developed his pro-European, socialist values. It is filled with spats and gossip from inside a privileged society – not unrecognisable from today’s power-wielding elite.