Paperbacks: Sophie Mackintosh's brilliant book Cursed Bread and Attwood on form

·4-min read
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood


Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh is published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now

A vivid and visceral account of a postwar French village and its sudden descent into the grip of madness, Cursed Bread is a dark and fevered journey through the mind and memories of Elodie, the wife of the village baker who longs for the taste of freedom and desire. The arrival of the ambassador and his wife provokes a stir among the locals - and a stirring of something deeper in Elodie - but the exotic strangers are not as they first appear. Through Elodie's raw and startling confessions, we empathise with her vulnerabilities, her growing frustrations and her unhealthy obsession with the glamorous Violet and her manipulative and desirable husband, mirroring the rising tension within the community, as it escalates and erupts in a final, brutal climax. This novel is a masterclass in observation, of fracturing personalities but also in its tight and nuanced portrait of the rituals and minutiae of small-town life. Afterwards, you'll want to devour it all over again.


(Review by Hannah Colby)

Old Babes In The Wood by Margaret Atwood is published in hardback by Chatto & Windus, priced £22 (ebook £11.99). Available now

The latest collection of short fiction by iconic author Margaret Atwood is bookended by two stories following married couple Nell and Tig across the decades. The middle consists of unconnected short stories on a range of sometimes peculiar subjects, including a snail soul finding itself in a woman's body, an interview with the late George Orwell through a medium, and an alien attempting to tell human fairytales. While each is interesting in its own right and Atwood's imagination and mastery of storytelling is evident, it feels like a haphazard assortment that does not always meet the standard of her other works. The return to Nell and Tig at the end includes touching depictions of ageing and losing loved ones - more of this storyline would be welcome.


(Review by Sophie Wingate)

The Curator by Owen King is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20 (ebook £11.99). Available now

There has been a rise in gothic-style novels recently, and Owen King's offering promises to be a Dickensian fantasy that will draw the reader in - an alternate universe full of thieves and conjurers. What you actually get is a rambling tale with very little focus. In a similar vein to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, there is a grotesqueness to proceedings. However, rather than leaning into the main characters, new ones are added and then just as quickly dropped. The main character Dora is a maid at The National Museum of the Worker, a place filled with wax figures of jobs from the past. She gets very little respect from those around her - or the author, as at no point will you feel anything for this character. Dora picks away at the loose threads of society while searching for answers about where her brother went after he died - but it's hard to get fully invested.


(Review by Rachel Howdle)


The Earth Transformed: An Untold History by Peter Frankopan is published in hardback by Bloomsbury Publishing, priced £20 (ebook £21). Available now

Climate change is the defining challenge of our age, although historian Peter Frankopan suggests this is true of every age: it is the scale and cause that are uniquely modern. The Earth Transformed argues history is the competition between humans and nature, though Frankopan avoids simplistic soundbites about certain climatic events causing the collapse or rise of certain empires. The risk of this approach is that global history becomes a catalogue of random events, a particular challenge in the opening chapters covering the aeons over which our planet and species developed. Frankopan hits his stride better when mustering his extensive sources around a cohesive theme: explaining how ancient kingship focused on controlling nature, or describing the growth of global trade networks. The final chapter is compellingly bleak in assessing our current trajectory, even as it acknowledges human ingenuity. It's a comprehensive work of scholarship, but not one that makes for easy reading.


(Review by Joshua Pugh Ginn)

Children's book of the week

5. Not Now, Noor! by Farhana Islam, illustrated by Nabila Adani, is published in paperback by Puffin, priced £7.99 (ebook £3.99). Available now

This sweet picture book is a celebration of the curiosity of children and the strength of Muslim women. Young Noor is surrounded by big characters - from her cool older sister to her mysterious grandma. They all wear a hijab, but Noor isn't quite sure what that means. She makes it her mission to find out why they wear a hijab, asking sweetly funny questions like is it to hide snacks? Or to hide their secret identity as a spy? No one has time to tell her the truth - until her mother steps in, and explains the true meaning of the hijab. It's a lovely tale that is funny, engaging and educational - perfect for all children, regardless of whether anyone in their family wears a hijab or not.


(Review by Prudence Wade)