cover image London and the South-East

London and the South-East

David Szalay. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-55597-793

This bleak, devastatingly observant novel from the Booker Prize finalist follows English ad salesman Paul Rainey. Stuck on an underperforming team at a dead-end sales firm, Paul is thrown a life raft by a former colleague, Eddy, who promises him a position at his own thriving sales company in exchange for a betrayal of Paul’s current one. Paul goes to painstaking, embarrassing lengths to orchestrate this betrayal, recruiting his fellow salespeople to jump ship with him to Eddy’s firm, but the plan backfires spectacularly on Paul, costing him his job, friends, and purpose. After he fails to secure employment as a gardener and then as a street sweeper, Paul’s wife, Heather, finds him a job stocking shelves overnight at a supermarket. What minor confidence boost this affords Paul is swiftly eradicated by another betrayal, leading Paul to devise a revenge plan so ill-conceived that it circles around to profound. Written with intense psychological acuity and inventive detail, the author turns a humdrum account of male malaise into an experience far more affecting—and universal—than it has any right to be. (Oct.)