Bookshelf: From to Greece to China, by way of Paris and New York

The Water Kingdom
The Water Kingdom
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Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant. Mulholland Books, £14.99 (ebook £1.99). Review by Harriet Shephard

Sabine Durrant is the former assistant editor of The Guardian who has turned her hand to writing brilliantly creepy, psychological thrillers. Paul is a 40-something, broke, failed writer who still lives at home with his mother. He’s also a prolific liar, who gets by through using people for money, sex and anything else he can get. When he manages to get invited on a family holiday to Greece with his latest love interest, he thinks he’s in for a perfect summer. However, his past deceptions eventually catch up with him. This clever tale leaves you feeling disturbed, shocked and questioning the classic ideas of good and evil; which of course is the sign of a fantastic read.

The Water Kingdom: A Secret History Of China by Philip Ball. Bodley Head, £25 (ebook £12.99). Review by Alex Sarll

Plenty of books propose a history of the world or a nation in terms of some single, attention-grabbing item or commodity, but Ball’s look at China through the nation’s relationship to water is more plausible and less gimmicky than most. The Yellow and Yangtze rivers function on a scale beyond anything in Europe; over the millennia they have been responsible both for China’s most fertile land, and for regular disasters. From prehistory, through the long imperial period, to the polluted rivers and dried-out lakes threatening modern China’s economic progress, Ball offers a compelling and evocative insight into a history still little understood in the West.

Augustown by Kei Miller. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99 (ebook £6.99). Review by Natalie Bowen

Kei Miller’s third novel invites us to Jamaica in 1982, to a poor suburb of Kingston called Augustown. There an almost blind Rastafarian grandmother called Ma Taffy can sense disaster looming as her distressed grandson comes home from school. To soothe him, she speaks of the ‘flying preacherman’: a 19th century revivalist called Alexander Bedford, who claimed to be able to fly. But the events of this single day entwine around Ma Taffy’s family as conflicts between religious prejudice, social hierarchy and the plight of the poor build to a head. It’s a brilliant, textured read that has the horrifying inevitability of a classical tragedy – but you can’t stop before the end.

Flaneuse: Women Walk - The City In Paris, New York, Venice And London by Lauren Elkin. Chatto & Windus, £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Review by Alex Sarll

The flaneur is the emblematic figure of urban life, the interested ambler, wandering wherever the city’s currents take him. And, French being a gendered language, the flaneur is always male. Elkin takes issue with that, and here revives the great women, from writers George Sand and Virginia Woolf to war photographer Martha Gellhorn, who proved more than a match for the boys. It’s a story she intertwines with her own, as she gets to know some of the world’s great cities on foot. It works and like her male peers, she’s insisting on her own place in a great subcultural tradition.