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From Christobel Kent to Julian Barnes, Ali Smith and Nina Stibbe, this week's best new fiction 

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Ali Smith HAmish Hamilton 14,99 €

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After his acclaimed Seasons Quartet, Ali Smith turns to Covid. The freewheeling narrative and relentless puns will be familiar.

A woman nicknamed Shifting Sand is called by an old friend from college who has confused her curlews and curfews. Then a time-traveling blacksmith joins the party.

But if the writing sometimes seems frenetic, the impression of a world descending into chaos is in the image of the time, with paranoid masked customs officers and elderly relatives in hospital unable to receive visitors.

This has to be the wackiest lockdown novel yet.

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Max Davidson

Elizabeth Finch

Julian Barnes Cloak Jonathan 19,99 €

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This slim story of big ideas reflects on topics ranging from monogamy to national hypocrisy. Its narrator, Neil, is an off-duty actor whose life is changed by taking an evening class.

The teacher is charismatic (some may disagree) Elizabeth Finch, with whom he strikes up a distant friendship. After her death, Neil inherits her papers and puts together an essay from her notes on the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate.

Barnes’ 14th novel isn’t his most accessible, but, as “EF” might say, accessibility shouldn’t always be literature’s primary concern.

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Hephzibah Anderson

One day I will amaze the world

Nina Stibbe Viking €14.99

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Susan and Norma become friends while working in a haberdashery, and this comedy of manners traces the ups and downs of their friendship over 30 years.

Susan has a child and marries; the two end up working at the local university; there is adultery, golf and other trappings of suburban life.

Stibbe’s latest will certainly be greeted with anticipation by his fans, but to this reader, his humor was underwhelming and a pandemic-centric denouement seemed contrived.

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Simon Humphreys

In deep water

Christopher Kent Sphere €20.99

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Sukie met Jake on a dating site, and before she knew it, they were spending a few days together on the remote but far from idyllic Greek island where he grew up.

As they walk through the airport, a woman named Heather recognizes Jake as the sinister predator who raped her years before. Can Heather catch him before Sukie becomes his next victim?

A slow but relentless thriller with a memorable villain.

John Williams

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