When is a novel not a novel? When it is actually a loosely connected set of short stories, or novellas. Hanan Al-Shaykh’s Only In London uses this trick, hoping that the resonances between her three tales will add more than the sum of its parts. It partially works. Four diverse passangers meet on a flight from Dubai. Amira: arab prostitute, Samir: transvestite middle aged chancer, Lamis: recently divorce Iraqi exile and Nicholas: English art dealer specialising in Arabic daggers. The three stories are (in order of strength) Lamis and Nicholas’ romance, Amira passing herself off as an Arabic princess and Samir’s adventures in procuring sex. Samir’s adventures with his pet monkey barely register at all, and Nicholas vanishes near the end suggesting that Al-Shaykh is much happier with her female characters. Lamis and Amira are extremely well drawn as the bounce around a London they want to be theirs, or make theirs.

That said none of the stories are particularly complex, and the intertwining of what are seperate stories annoys because they lack strength just when the others are getting going. And whilst this is a book about London, I am not clear what it is trying to say about the place. Yes you can do anything here, yes it can be alienating. Perhaps it is that London is whatever you are looking for, or hoping for, or – in some cases – fearing. A curiously hot and cold novel for me.