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Books in brief: Humour and brutality in a dystopian world

Brief reviews of Sugar Street, Line of Fire and Owlish

Sugar Street, By Jonathan Dee, Corsair, £16.99.

Sugar Street is anything but sweet – it’s where our unnamed narrator ends up after abruptly taking off on the road, with a serious amount of cash stashed under his driver’s seat. The tale is not so much one of a man trying to find himself in today’s United States, as that of a man trying to escape his past without registering on anyone’s radar. This is an elegant, spare and thoroughly engaging novel, with a narrator who goes from potential bad guy to potential victim, and back to potential bad guy via meditations on white male privilege, a desire to repair the damage that people do to each other, and a genuinely affecting questioning of whether it’s possible to do the “right thing” without incurring judgment. – Claire Looby

Line of Fire: Journeys through a Media Minefield, By David O’Donoghue, Orpen Press, €17.

A local newspaper owner-editor and Fianna Fáil councillor who embellished his contributions to urban district council meetings in his newspaper while also plagiarising horoscopes, and an Irish Press reporter who publicly told Taoiseach Charles Haughey to “f*** off”, are among the “characters” recalled in this entertaining, if sometimes contentious, account of a 20-year journalism career in Ireland and abroad. Between apprenticeship on the Midland Tribune in Tullamore in 1971 and reporting for the short-lived national independent station Century Radio in Dublin in 1991, Cork-born O’Donoghue worked for the Connacht Tribune, RTÉ News, Agence France-Press, Europa TV, and magazines in Brussels and Singapore, before teaching radio journalism in Cornwall and returning to Ireland. – Ray Burke


Owlish, By Dorothy Tse, tr Natascha Bruce, Fitzcarraldo Editions, £13.99. Uncanny and subversive, Owlish is a bold debut novel set in a dystopian fairytale-like world. Professor Q is late middle aged, stagnant in his career and discontented in a tepid marriage. His lacklustre existence is changed when he wins a life-size doll with whom he begins a passionate affair. This affair blinds him to the sinister forces and brutal political upheaval in his resident city, Nevers; a thinly veiled allegory for the city of Hong Kong. Owlish is both lyrical and disturbing, erotic and absurd. Bruce captures the lyricism and surrealist humour of a talented author in her deft translation. For readers not intimately familiar with the political situation in Hong Kong, however, certain references may be lost and background reading may engender a more satisfying experience. – Brigid O’Dea