by Julie HaleFebruary, 2009
February paperbacks for reading groups
Benjamin Black (the pen name of award-winning Irish author John Banville) delivers another captivating noir narrative featuring pathologist Garret Quirke. Set in Dublin in the 1950s, The Silver Swan is the sequel to Black's best-selling mystery, Christine Falls (2007). When Quirke is unexpectedly reunited with an old college chum named Billy Hunt, the encounter is hardly a lighthearted one. The body of Billy's wife, Deirdre—apparently a suicide—has been found in Dublin Bay, yet Billy asks Quirke not to do an autopsy on her. Suspecting that there's more to the case than meets the eye, Quirke looks into Deirdre's past only to find that she led something of a double life. Under the name Laura Swan, she ran a beauty salon called The Silver Swan. Her involvement with the establishment came as the result of a business deal made with a mysterious Englishman named Leslie White. As Quirke learns more about the beautiful Deirdre, he finds that she was caught in a net of drugs and illegal sex—a net that threatens to entrap his own young daughter, Phoebe. This is a disturbing tale, cannily constructed by Black, in which the suspense is perfectly modulated. Brilliant, sensitive and a bit melancholy, Quirke himself proves a fascinating and worthy protagonist. He's a quiet hero the reader naturally takes to, and a formidable match for Dublin's criminal element.
A reading group guide is included in the book and online.
His Illegal Self
By Peter Carey
The latest novel from the Booker Prize-winning author is another rousing tale of discovery that takes the rough landscape of Australia as its primary backdrop. The narrative opens in New York City, where seven-year-old Che Selkirk lives with his American grandmother. Che's parents, free-spirited radicals at Harvard during the 1960s, have been absent since he was a toddler, but he hopes they'll return one day. When a strange young woman named Dial comes to Che's apartment unexpectedly, he's convinced she is his mother. The two soon hit the road, and Che's disappearance from the city makes the news. Meanwhile, Dial, who is actually an escort designated to take Che to see his mother, doesn't have the heart to tell him the truth. Eventually, the two end up in a commune in Australia—a crude encampment with no running water populated by a group of feuding hippies. Well out of his element, Che is forced to find his way in unfamiliar surroundings. With the preternatural intelligence and spunk that only small children possess, he succeeds in doing so, coming to grips with his identity along the way. Carey writes with amazing authenticity from the perspective of Che, and the conclusion he has cooked up for this beautifully rendered adventure story is sure to knock readers for a loop. A reading group guide is available online.
Things I Want My Daughters to Know
By Elizabeth Noble
With her fourth novel, Noble—the best-selling author of The Reading Group—offers a touching narrative about the nature of motherhood and the importance of family. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Barbara Forbes—mother of four very different daughters—knows that she doesn‚Äôt have much time left to devote to her precious girls. During her last days, she writes each of them a letter filled with advice on life, love and matters of the heart. After Barbara's death, the girls read her words, finding comfort and strength in them. Lisa, the oldest daughter and an inveterate nurturer, is encouraged to let someone care for her instead. To Jennifer, a distant and delicate young woman caught up in a troubled marriage, Barbara leaves advice concerning relationships. Amanda, something of a nonconformist, learns a surprising family secret from her letter, while Hannah, a defiant teenager, is cautioned by Barbara and warned that she needs to mature. This wise and tender story spans a year in the daughters' lives, as they struggle to deal with the loss of Barbara and find hope in her unique legacy. The narrative is moving and poignant, yet it never sinks into sentimentality. Sure to resonate with female readers, Noble's stirring novel is wonderfully affirmative and beautifully written.
A reading group guide is available online.