My vote is for Killing Daniel by Sarah Dobbs
This is a fabulous debut novel – telling the original and intriguing story of the parallel lives of two women – one English (Fleur) and the other Japanese (Chinatsu) who established a close bond when they briefly met at school in the North of England.
In Salford, Fleur lives unhappily with her abusive partner, Marcus while haunted by memories of Daniel, a deaf teenager who was obsessed with her until he was murdered and the unwanted attentions of her mother's predatory boyfriend, Derek. She manages to escape from Marcus when she ends up in hospital.
In Tokyo, Chinatsu is married to a successful but oppressive Japanese businessman. A chance discovery prompts her to question his activities while away on business and leads her to seek a new life.
Dobb's has proved to be a masterful at stitching together the strands of this complicated and culturally diverse story. Her two lead characters are convincing and compelling – and their thoughts and actions are central to contextualising and progressing the plot. There are no long descriptions and the reliance on dialogue is reminiscent of a movie.
The opening chapter hooks the reader with its graphic description of the killing of Daniel and the narrative continues at such a fast pace that it is almost impossible to stop reading. At times, the use of language is poetic and the short sentences make for easy reading. I found the ending very satisfying and on finishing, reflected on how cleverly Dobbs has used it to bring together her many strands and close the circle of events.
I don't regard this as a feminist novel – even though its two central characters are women – rather, it is about relationships and the human condition – showing the power of social conditioning and negative family patterns and the strength of the human spirit to find a way through and survive. For me, it raises many important questions about the status and role of women (and men) in British and Japanese cultures – which seem to be very different and yet surprisingly similar.