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BOOK OF THE WEEK THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE by Zoe Whittall, Hodder & Stoughton, PS16.99 (ebook PS7.99) HHHHH CANADIAN novelist and poet Zoe Whittall's latest novel examines the painful aftershocks of a rape accusation.

Set in the fictional wealthy town of Avalon Hills, Connecticut, life as they know it is turned upside down for the Woodbury family when father and popular science teacher, George Woodbury is accused of sexually assaulting multiple female students.

Having saved the school from a shooting 10 years prior, the town is initially dumbfounded that their local hero could be capable of such heinous acts. But disbelief quickly transitions to hate.

George's trauma nurse wife Joan receives daily harassment and when their straight-A student daughter Sadie is abandoned by her friends and bullied, she rapidly descends into a lifestyle of casual sex and drug use.

While we are never fully allowed into George's conscience, Whittall delves into the waspy minds of Joan, Sadie and various locals and, through their inner turmoil, George's true character is revealed drip by drip.

Dealing with the issues of rape, school shootings, male rights activism and mass hysteria, The Best Kind Of People is, if nothing else, timely.

Relevant, believable, but never feeling opportunistic, Whittall is somehow able to explore these unpleasant themes both boldly and with sensitivity.

Engrossing. You will be left wondering just who George is, and indeed, who are you.

FICTION DON'T CRY by Mary Gaitskill Serpent's Tail, PS8.99 (ebook PS4.31). HHH HH THE best of the stories in this new collection of shorts, from the author of Veronica and Two Girls, Fat And Thin, are very, very good. The stand-out is The Arms And Legs Of The Lake, in which Gaitskill weaves a painfully intricate and absorbing drama from the perspectives of a group of strangers on a train journey to Syracuse, NY.

Deftly, the narrative drifts in and out of the viewpoints of, among others, a damaged African-American Iraq war returnee, a middle-aged English teacher and peace activist, and Carter Brown, a World War II vet who can't see the point of this more recent war.

Economical, intimate and unsparing, the story's control of perspective and acuity of insight give it the rich, satisfying feel of a novel. In another story, College Town, 1980, we meet a group of shiftless flatmates adrift at the start of the Reagan era; the desultory vibe contrasts with the pitiless penetration of the observations, just as the characters' debates about personal power ring hollow in their world of petty vendettas.

Some of the other stories are more conceptual in nature, aiming for a pleasure that is more cerebral and less immersive. But these work less well, especially when contrasted with the ruthless intimacy, wonderful control of viewpoint and psychological depth achieved by the others.

THE BEDLAM STACKS by Natasha Pulley Bloomsbury Circus, PS12.99 (ebook PS6.47) HHH HH NATASHA PULLEY had a lot to live up to after the runaway success of her debut novel, The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street.

But she's managed to do just that with The Bedlam Stacks. Sticking to a similar era (there are subtle connections between the two books throughout), Pulley abandons England for Peru.

The book follows a crippled smuggler working for the East India Company as he - along with two companions - heads deep into uncharted territory to find cinchona trees, the only source of quinine that can cure the outbreak of Malaria across the Empire. It's a fast-paced adventure story with great characters and a message about colonialism and discovering new worlds. The book, though more meditative than her debut, is still filled with wondrous images, from moving statues to exploding trees.

It stutters slightly in the middle, spending a little too long establishing the magical and holy town of Bedlam, with its natural glass towers, Incan descendants and illuminated pollen. But once it gets back on track, it rolls along at speed to a satisfying ending.

NON-FICTION SHARK DRUNK: THE ART OF CATCHING A LARGE SHARK FROM A TINY RUBBER DINGHY IN A BIG OCEAN by Morten Stroksnes (translated by Tiina Nunnally) Jonathan Cape, PS12.99 (ebook PS9.49) HHHHH SHARK Drunk, awarded five literary prizes in Norway, is published in English for the first time. Author Morten Stroksnes (writer of several other praised reportage books) describes his efforts, alongside his old friend Hugo Aasjord, to catch a Greenland Shark, from a R.I.B. (rigid-inflatable boat) in the Vestfjorden off Norway.

This is a shark that can grow up to 26 feet in length, weigh more than a tonne and live for 200 years.

Set over the four seasons of the year, Stroksnes visits the area several times in pursuit of the shark, and his story is told alongside titbits of history, fishing and ecology. It feels like there is a slight clash between the efforts that go into catching this beast of the ocean alongside the passages containing notes on conservation, depleted fish stocks and preserving the planet, but it isn't like the two protagonists are trawling the sea in a destructive manner.

Shark Drunk is a fascinating and educating journey, written in a beautifully descriptive yet crisp style that is a must-read for anyone who enjoys nature, is interested in the sea and its history, or just wants to escape to some Scandinavian fjords.

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK THERE IS NO DRAGON IN THIS STORY by Lou Carter, illustrated by Deborah Allwright, PS6.99 (ebook PS3.32).

HHH HH DRAGONS are having a moment - only a few weeks ago, Elys Dolan's Knighthood For Beginners saw Dave, the rubbish dragon, try his hand at being a knight and now, for younger children, Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright have a dragon (called Dragon) who's fed up of being the baddie and wants to be the hero of any story that will have him.

In his search for stardom, he meets a small gingerbread man, Jack, up a beanstalk, a little pig, Goldilocks and... well, the list goes on.

But they all tell him: 'There is no dragon in this story' (you get the picture).

But, when the dragon comes face-to-face with the giant who's chasing Jack, everything changes and suddenly, after one very big sneeze, Dragon gets his chance to save the day. With cute illustrations and a healthy lesson in perseverance, this is a charm of a picture book.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 29, 2017
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