The Rain Before it Falls
The Book of Air and Shadows
By Michael Gruber
HarperCollins pound;6.99 (pbk)
Life on the Refrigerator Door
By Alice Kuipers
A girl called Rosamund is evacuated to her aunt's farm in the Second World War. Homesick and vulnerable, she becomes smitten with her beautiful, selfish, petulant cousin Beatrix. Before Rosamund dies, she records descriptions of family photographs and memorabilia for Beatrix's granddaughter, who is blind.
Each short chapter illuminates the blighted lives in the snapshots and hints at occasional sunbursts of happiness. The Rain Before it Falls is a much more tightly told story than The Rotters' Club and The Closed Circle, but it shares with Coe's last novels an acute sense of time and place and an urge to create order out of chaos and coincidence. Here the reader, with Rosamund's niece Gill, has to do some of the work, but it's a pleasure.
The two unwilling heroes of The Book of Air and Shadows are unknown to each other: a New York bookstore skivvy whose mother knows a top code-breaker and a weightlifting intellectual property lawyer whose former hoodlum brother is now a Jesuit priest. But between them they cross some nasty people because they have found and lost all the surviving papers of a humble gunner in the English Civil War who was once sent to spy on a suspected subversive called William Shakespeare. Everyone in this tangled yarn seems too clever or too stupid to be true, but it's a fun literary thriller and it will keep you entertained in short bursts until half-term.
In Life on the Refrigerator Door, Claire's mother has breast cancer and does not recover. Their lives over nine months are played out in notes stuck to the fridge door some only long enough for a poignant Post-it.
They cajole and berate each other about taking out the rubbish and cleaning out the guinea pig, about 16-year-old Claire's boyfriend and her short temper, about small secrets and big, frightening ones. They each try to guess what the other needs, get it wrong and try again