Dangerous secrets: Verdigris, by Michele Mari, reviewed

In everyday life – on a garden path, flowerpot or lettuce – I back rapidly away from slugs. I didn’t expect to confront them in literature, but in Michele Mari’s Verdigris they are present in abundance, from the first line: Bisected by a precise blow of the spade, the slug writhed a moment longer: then it moved no more… slimy shame transformed into splendid silvery iridescence.  So, not a novel for one who shrinks from gastropod molluscs, you would think. Yet I quickly found myself drawn into a remote corner of rural north Italy in 1969 where a lonely, bookish boy, Michelino, spends long summers with his emotionally unreachable grandparents.

A cabinet of curiosities: You, Bleeding Childhood, by Michele Mari

Michele Mari is one of Italy’s most eminent writers. A prize-winning novelist, poet, translator and academic, he is hardly known to anglophone readers, but that is about to change. You, Bleeding Childhood, a collection of 13 stories written over a period of 30 years, offers a portal into Mari’s surreal, unsettling world: a place of childhood memories, obsessions and a passion for literature and science fiction.         Mari inhabits Borges’s labyrinthine territory. His prose style shares the gleaming formality of Nabokov, but he’s his own man, nonchalantly mixing high and low culture: the literary canon and classic comic books, Dante and pulp. The book gains something in translation: an afterword

Knotty problems: French Braid, by Anne Tyler, reviewed

Anne Tyler’s 24th novel French Braid opens in 2010 in Philadelphia train station. We find the teenage Serena, who has the ‘usual Garrett-family blue’ eyes, with her boyfriend James, waiting for a train back to Baltimore, where they’re at university together. Serena runs into her cousin Nicholas – although she’s not certain it’s him – and doesn’t seem especially keen to speak to him. There’s an awkward meeting; then Serena and James go to catch their train. A sense of unease hangs over the whole encounter. James speaks for the reader when he says: ‘Maybe there’s some deep dark secret in your family’s past.’ Uncovering this secret is at the

Family secrets: Love Orange, by Natasha Randall, reviewed

The line between obsession and addiction is as thin as rolling paper. Neither are simple and both stem from absence, avoidance or — as Jenny, the dissatisfied housewife in Natasha Randall’s droll debut novel, calls it — life’s ‘marshmallow numbness’. Jenny’s drug? The sticky, sweet-smelling orange glue that seals the intimate letters she receives from a prison inmate called John — ‘just a little lick’ and a liquid warmth surges within her, letting her breathe, making the ground feel solid. But she isn’t the only Tinkley family member with a secret. Which brings us to the question posed by the outwardly forward-thinking Father Brian: ‘What sort of family is this?’