Flight of fancy in an Ikea wardrobe

Julia Donaldson is concerned that children's lack of access to books will send literacy standards into decline

Julia Donaldson is concerned that children's lack of access to books will send literacy standards into decline

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This debut novel from Romain Puertolas was written on his mobile phone while working as a border guard. It tells the story of Ajatashatru, a fakir (a magical man), who lives in a remote village in India and needs a new bed of nails. He persuades his followers to pay for a flight to his nearest Ikea, in Paris, to buy a one. Falling for a beautiful woman called Marie, he spends the night living it up in the store and hides from the night guards in a wardrobe, which is loaded onto a lorry and shipped to England. He ends up travelling around Europe and north Africa by plane, ship, trunk and hot-air balloon. On one level, it’s a standard picaresque tale of a con man living by his wits, but beneath the humour is a more profound examination of poverty and immigration, of traffickers and the lengths desperate people will go to for a better life. Moved by the characters he meets, Ajatashatru vows to change his ways and make amends, but will he?

‘The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir Who Got Trapped In An Ikea Wardrobe’ by Romain Puertolas is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.03).

Billed as a book for fans of ‘The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time’, Virginia McGregor’s debut novel is a carefully constructed comment on how appearances can be deceiving. It’s told, in turns, from the perspective of nine-year-old Milo, who has Retinitis Pigmentosa – he’s going blind and can only see through a pinhole – his 92-year-old beloved but mute gran Lou, and Tripi, a Syrian refugee. Milo seems to pick up on things others miss, including the mistreatment of the elderly folk in his gran’s new nursing home. While Tripi may live rough, he has a heart of gold and will do anything to help Milo and his single mother Sandy. And then there’s biker Al, who moves into Milo’s home so Sandy can pay the bills and whose tough exterior is a cover for his real purpose in life. Milo ropes in Tripi and Al to help him save Lou and expose the wrongdoing. It’s predictable and a little cliched and the multiple perspectives can slow the pace. It was a tall order to live up to the Mark Haddon book it seeks to ape, but What Milo Saw is still a heart-warming read.

‘What Milo Saw’ by Virginia MacGregor is published in hardback by Sphere, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.49).