By Yaa Gyasi
Penguin € 12.99
Gifty is at Stanford University studying reward research by experimenting with mice. Addicted to a sugary drink, mice press a lever that gives them either the drink or an electric shock. Using optogenetics, Gifty wants to understand the mice that keep pressing the lever, shock after shock. Gifty lost his brother to an opioid addiction; now her mother has come to live with her, catatonic with depression. Can Gifty’s research help with these opposite responses to pleasure depression, where there is too much restraint, and drug addiction, where there is not enough? Gifty’s research is not limited to this question; it also questions faith, science, always tending towards some illusory meaning. A combination of detached observation and beautiful insight, in a language that is both sober and poetic, makes this a magnificent and dazzling novel. – Ruth mckee
In the garden: essays on nature and culture
Daunt Books, £ 9.99
“As long as I could name the days and months – observe their colorful and indomitable lexicon; the scintillating, painful cycle of the seasons in this growing, dying and changing world – I struggled with the month of April.
In her essay which is almost painful it’s so beautiful, Kerri Ní Dochartaigh talks about finally settling in the same place, in a cottage in the middle of Ireland just before the lockdown. Her first garden, and the “butterflies like a butterfly bird” of a long-awaited pregnancy make short diary entries, words that appease grief, that pay attention to little miracles and the profound wonder of nature. Taken from an array of essays, this collection features 14 writers, including Paul Mendez, Penelope Lively, and Nigel Slater, each opening different windows to gardening. A joy. – Ruth mckee
Doubleday, £ 16.99
On the surface, Maggie Shipstead’s latest novel is the story of two women in two distinct moments, united by the most unlikely efforts, to fly and to gamble. In reading, however, it becomes clear that the interwoven tales of Marian Graves and Hadley Baxter are existential explorations of the choices we each make for living and the depths of the mysteries that reside at the heart of all of us.
Marian is a tragic pilot, a woman who not only pushes her prescribed gender role, but also her very existence to the limit. Fifty years after her demise in 1950, Hadley is the troubled actor who will play her and, in doing so, discover more about herself than she could have imagined.
In the hands of a lesser writer, Great Circle would be a spiraling epic, more style than substance. Shipstead flies dangerously close to that particular sun at times, but her lyrical language and compelling characters continually save her. – Becky long