Longing for oblivion: The Warm Hands of Ghosts, by Katherine Arden, reviewed

This novel, set towards the end of the first world war, is eerie and fanciful yet gruesomely down-to-earth. It features Laura Iven, formerly a nurse at the Front – awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1915 – and her brother Freddie, part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force sent to take Passchendaele Ridge in November 1917. Owing to a deep shrapnel wound, Laura is back home in Halifax, Canada. It is January 1918, and the previous month her parents died when their ship Mont Blanc exploded in Halifax harbour. To make matters even worse, Freddie is missing. Laura is now a live-in nurse companion to three elderly sisters who conduct séances.

Unreliable memories: Laura Laura, by Richard Francis, reviewed

Just imagine: you reach a certain age and you become your own unreliable narrator. Gerald Walker, the protagonist of Richard Francis’s 12th novel, is a retired history professor who fears that ‘chunks of his life might go missing’. Laura Laura describes a year in his life which, in seamless flashbacks, encompasses most of his past. It opens with Gerald’s late-night encounter with a homeless, possibly suicidal, waif called Laura. She revives his suppressed memory of a previous Laura, a research student with whom he’d had an illicit fling, best forgotten. This is an amusing study, with a serious underlying theme, of the tricks memory can play, particularly if, like Gerald,