1. Eleven by Mark Watson
You may recognise Mark Watson’s name from TV panel shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, from his pear cider ads or from his stand-up routine which he performs in a Welsh accent despite being from Bristol. But this, the comedian’s third novel, cements his reputation as a witty, sharply observant writer. Protagonist Xavier Ireland is a late night radio DJ with a Scrabble fetish and a chequered past.
A snowy day in the capital sees Xavier succumb to cowardice when he witnesses a brutal gang assault on a youth. The consequences of Xavier’s inaction reach out across the city as invisibly yet determinedly as radio waves, touching the lives of a number of disparate characters. There’s Julius Brown, a teenage mathematics enthusiast struggling with obesity, an effervescent Geordie cleaner, an estate agent with halitosis, and Murray, Xavier’s inept, stuttering sidekick.
As consequences build momentum, Watson settles into a narrative that is at once droll and devastating, littered with insightful analogies and poignant vignettes of city life. The modern urban dilemma of action versus inaction is deftly woven into an engaging plot, populated with relatable characters. Watson moves from one character to the next and back and forth in time, betraying tantalising details of Xavier’s haunted past, the current predicament of the 11 central characters, and the future of society at large; remaining hilarious throughout.
Eleven is out in paperback 9 June (£7.99, Simon & Schuster)