Reviewing a favourite writer’s latest is a bit of a difficult ask. You go in tentatively, hoping it will be more of the same, only better. You look at that advanced reading copy, almost afraid to turn the page and plunge into an uncharted narrative dimension. When the writer is the oddly reticent Anees Salim, he keeps the reader’s anxiety taut, giving his first book in four years an odd title like The Odd Book of Baby Names.

Only, with a writer like Salim, funny, wry, bleakly comic, oddness is par for the course. A few pages into the book and you are rewarded with everything a Salim novel has come to mean to his agape-and-waiting audience – a dysfunctional family, dark humour, an unusual setting, a raconteur setting out to pull us all into this distinctly strange but utterly believable fictional world.

The names

A lot of Salim’s fiction has been asynchronous with contemporary times, and in the annus horribilus that 2020-21 has been, this step back into an earlier period of time is almost like relaxing a muscle you didn’t even know was pulled into painful tension. Set in the late 1960s (a clever set of clues embedded in the narrative will tell you exactly when), the…

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