In brief: Family Business; The Cat Who Saved Books; The Unreality of Memory – reviews

A gripping history of John Lewis, a charming tale of a talking cat and a fascinating collection of essays on digital anxiety

Family Business: An Intimate History of John Lewis and the Partnership

Victoria Glendinning
William Collins, £20, pp400

You’ll never look at John Lewis, that bastion of middle-class Britain, in the same way after reading Victoria Glendinning’s compelling survey of the family behind the department store. It’s a tempestuous tale, beginning in impoverished 19th-century Somerset with a “delicate” orphan named – yes – John Lewis. Glendinning’s fascination is contagious and she blends the ingredients of a family saga – the borderline comedic, the bleakly tragic – with insights into the partnership’s ethical underpinnings, acknowledging the romance of golden-age bricks-and-mortar retail as well as its uncertain future.

The Cat Who Saved Books

Sosuke Natsukawa (trans by Louise Heal Kawai)
Picador, £9.99, pp224

This whimsical novel will have many a reader at the title. It begins with the death of Rintaro Natsuki’s grandfather and guardian. Rintaro is still at high school and not only does the old man’s passing leave him alone, it also imperils the future of Natsuki Books, the second-hand bookshop of every bibliophile’s dreams. Things look desperate until a talking tabby named Tiger pitches up and asks for Rintaro’s help. Their mission? To rescue books from owners who mistreat them. Enchanting adventures ensue, yielding some cosy takeaway lessons.

The Unreality of Memory: Notes on Life in the Pre-Apocalypse

Elisa Gabbert
Atlantic, £9.99, pp272

Poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert’s voice is calm, playfully engaging and clear – a voice for our anxious, wired times, if ever there was one. This second book of nonfiction functions as a field guide to digital anxiety, its subjects ranging from computer-animated recreations of the sinking of the Titanic to “mirror delusions” and a history of psychosomatic disorders. Each diligently researched essay seems to evolve organically and if she doomscrolls her way down a rabbit hole, you know it will lead somewhere not just pertinent, but poetic and philosophical too.

Contributor

Hephzibah Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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