Harrowing, but exquisitely so, A Little Life is anything but - little, that is. Readers of books like The Goldfinch and Freedom will certainly appreciate this very intricately- and sensitively-drawn character study.
To compare this book to the movies Groundhog Day or Sliding Doors would be to do it an injustice, but it's hard to resist. Suffice it to say that Atkinson takes the "What if" trope to a whole new level with her brilliant story of one British woman's life, 1910-1967. Atkinson, a Scot known best for her detective novels, performs monumental feats of fiction in telling - and retelling, and retelling - Ursula's story(ies). And doesn't fall once. This may be the best book I've read in years.
An All-Time Favorite! If you haven't read it yet, you must. Set in a fashionable Paris apartment house, Elegance of the Hedgehog features two distinctly intelligent female protagonists. The middle-aged concierge Renee, an auto-didact whose intellect is hidden by her very position at the building's ground floor; and Paloma, the precocious 12-year old on the top floor. Barring its tragic ending, this is one of the more delightful novels I've ever read.
Teju Cole's post 9-11 novel is, simply put, stunning. Dense with cultural references and observaitons, historical facts, and lyrical descriptions of New York, Brussels, and Lagos, Open City is a tour de force of intellectual musing. I found in incredibly stimulating–thought provoking in a way that elevated an uneventful story line to soaring heights of significance. I wish every literary novel were this absorbing!
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways... (And we'll just forget that my mother beseeched me to read this book four decades ago and I didn't.) One: Francie Nolan, the novel's young protagonist, decides that she will read all the books in the library. Two: Francie's poor and uneducated mother reads a page each of the Bible and Shakespeare to her children each night. Three: Francie falls irrationally in love with a completely unsuitable man and, despite going on to find a suitable one, never really lets go of her fantasy. Four: Well, I will spare you. But suffice it to say, if you won't take if from your mother, take it from me: READ THIS BOOK. (All credit for my finally reaing it goes to my dear friend Tamara, for whom I will do just about anything.)
Eowyn Ivey's debut novel (she has since written another) about a childless couple's rather joyless escape to the wilds of 1920's Alaska is truly magical–and I don't apply that word lightly. I have never particularly enjoyed so-called magical realism, but Ivey's western retelling of a classic Russian fairytale hits all the right notes and caught me quite by surprise. Spellbound, I devoured every last page.
I couldn't put down this novel about a young woman recruited to be an agent for the British Special Operations Executie, a secret organization tasked with destruction behind enemy lines. Mawer brilliantly weaves an unfamiliar bit of WWII history into a suspenseful war story, itself shot through with romance and intrigue. Not my usual genre, but very well received.
What a thought-provoking roller-coaster of philosophy, human emotion, and history this book is! That the author is a Zen Buddhist nun is apparent throughout in the wise observations of being, yet the novel is shot through with streaks of contempoarary humor and timeless horror. An irreverent modernity results. Bonus: a great illustration of Schrodinger's theory of quantum physics!
Hillary Jordan delivers a spectacular sophomore effort with When She Woke. It's nothing at all like her first, Mudbound, save for the fabulous writing. In a manner reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Jordan spins a modern version of The Scarlet Letter, in which a young woman, pregnant by her minister, has an abortion, and is 'melachromed' in lieu of imprisonment. "When she woke, she was red." Stunning and scary, considering the current political trends in America...
Writers & Lovers is totally immersive, an invitation into the interior world of a grieving, struggling young writer. I consumed i tin just a few sittings, putting it down only when I had no choice, and picking it back up as soon as I could, hungry for Casey's divulgences and full of hope for her future. I am grateful to Lily King for writing a character whose naked vulnerability made me feel like a trusted friend: one who could–or had to–just listen and be present for her. In doing so, I have gained empathy. That, to me, is the sign of the best fiction.
Such a Fun Age is a brilliant and stealthily thought-provoking novel. Though its themes of race and privilege in modern America are disclosed right up front in the jacket copy, I suspect readers will get more than they bargained for–page of after page, right to the last sentence. Like the snappy title and eye-catching jacket art, Reid's pitch-perfect dialog and pretenseless prose are clever camouflage for a fierce, yet surprisingly–almost universally–sympathetic interrogation of the roles we play, both willingly and unwittingly, according to our race and class.
Two NYC cops settle their families next door to one another in the suburbs and their fates collide when one's emotionally disturbed wife gets her hands on a gun. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and was contentedly invested in its intimate cast of characters and their personal struggles to overcome life's challenges. Not too heavy, not too light. A just right kind of book.