I rarely sit down and read a book all at once, so when I finished this at 11AM having begun at 7, I knew it deserved mention. Clegg provides the reader with the kernel of a story, then introduces eleven voices with which to weave it all together. It makes for compulsive reading, as you plait one over the other and a lovely novel emerges.
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.
Nora Eldridge is 42 years old, single, and pissed. She tells us that in the first pages. It's not until the very final pages that we learn why, but by then, we've likely forgotten how angry she told us she was in the first place. And that is Messud's brilliance: her ability to sink us into the lives of her characters so completely that, like in real life, we forget what we're told until we learn it the hard way, ourselves. The Woman Upstairs is rich with passion, wanting, and betrayal. I was consumed - and stunned. Just like Nora.
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...
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!
The characters of this ambitious debut novel by Middlebury College alum Eleanor Henderson move back and forth between gritty "Lintonburgh, VT" (read: Burlington) and socio-economically diverse neighborhoods of NYC, c. 1987. Their wildly different worlds interconnect through education, music, religion & drugs in an updated twist on 70's counter-culture. Familiar & alien, clean & intoxicated, penniless & privleged - Ten Thousand Saints is a study in many contrasts, and a good, solid read. Henderson has a bright future in fiction.
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.
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.
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.
Tragedy and triumph, war and peace, prosperity and poverty; Rosanna & Walter Langdon and their kin experience it all in the first of Jane Smiley's epic family drama trilogy. I fell head over heels in love these robust Iowan farmers and it is of great distress to me that I haven't had time to read the second and third installments. (Surely, someday, when I retire...) In any case, short chapters, each representing one year, draw the reader addictively into the lives of the Langdon family, always looping back to home and heritage.
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!
Ah, schadenfreude. It's a guilty pleasure, usually. Goolrick's tale of the dramatic ruination of one of the young turks of '80's Manhattan will satisfy your craving, but you won't feel like a total heel for loving it, for without the sin there is no recompense. And therein lies the real pleausre.