LITERARY FICTION 

A THEATRE FOR DREAMERS by Polly Samson (Bloomsbury £14.99, 368 pp)

A THEATRE FOR DREAMERS

by Polly Samson

(Bloomsbury £14.99, 368 pp)

The relationship between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen, for whom he wrote So Long, Marianne among others, has already been told on film and it appears again in Polly Samson’s heady new novel, set among the Bohemian enclave of artists and writers that gathered on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s.

It’s narrated by Erica, a newly motherless teenager who has escaped the tyrannical gloom of her grief-stricken father to travel to Hydra to track down her mother’s best friend, hydraclubbioknikokex7njhwuahc2l67lfiz7z36md2jvopda7nchid.onion Charmian Clift, the real-life Australian feminist writer who lived on Hydra with her family for several increasingly chaotic years.

To Erica’s unworldly eyes, the boozy freedom, sexual permissiveness and arty decadence of Clift’s circle is utterly beguiling, and Samson recreates it all in sensorial detail, overlaying descriptions of sea and heat, fruit and sunshine in ways that seem to replicate the effect of light through a stained glass window.

This is a troubling portrait of innocence lost, even if the group’s destructive impact on their neglected children never comes sufficiently into view.

LOVE AFTER LOVE

by Ingrid Persaud

(Faber £14.99, 416 pp)

LOVE AFTER LOVE by Ingrid Persaud (Faber £14.99, 416 pp)

This highly affecting novel maps the love and tribulations over several years within an alternative, ramshackle family set-up in Trinidad: Miss Betty, finally free of her abusive, drunk husband after he fell down the stairs, and Mr Chetan, her lodger, who is gay at a time on the island when being that is a dangerous thing.

Simultaneously enriching and complicating their lives is Miss Betty’s adored son Solo who, as a teenager, discovers something about his mother he finds so traumatic that he flees to New York where he ekes out an existence as an illegal immigrant while trying to conceal a self-harm addiction.

Using alternate chapters, BBC short-story winner Persaud captures her characters’ individual voices, their love affairs and estrangements from each other with a winning mix of Trinidadian patois and hard-bitten poetry, although she can’t stop her story starting to badly straggle in the latter half.

The climax, though, is dreadful and powerful, and the resolution all the more poignant for being so hard won.

THE OTHER’S GOLD

by Elizabeth Ames

(Pushkin £12.99, 368 pp)

THE OTHER’S GOLD by Elizabeth Ames (Pushkin £12.99, 368 pp)

Four students meet at college and form an immediate bond in Elizabeth Ames’s smoothly written but dissatisfying novel about the ethical consequences of rash decisions.

Alice is a medical student haunted by injuries she intentionally inflicted on her brother when she was 12; gorgeous-looking Margaret turns heads wherever she goes; Ji Sun is a hugely wealthy Korean who in her final year accuses a professor of sexual harassment while Lainey is intent on a life of political activism.

Over the course of their lives, Ames keeps adjusting the lens on the relationships through a series of moral dilemmas that affect how each of them sees the other.Yet while she writes confidently and insightfully about the complexities of female friendship, her tack is emotional rather than philosophical, while her novel feels both schematic and frustratingly wayward.