by Julie HaleJanuary 2011
New in paperback
This month’s best paperback releases for reading groups
A LONG, STRANGE TRIP
In his remarkably mature debut, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason takes liberties with a literary classic to produce a fascinating novel that succeeds on its own merits. Mason uses Homer’s work as a foundation and writes in a style that’s poetic yet accessible. He departs from tradition by putting his own spin on Odysseus’ adventures, playing a game of what-if throughout the book and tinkering with famous plotlines. Mason’s hero, for instance, opts not to use the Trojan horse, and his Penelope, hardly the patient, penitent wife-in-waiting she’s famously known to be, goes ahead and takes a husband—a fat old fellow posing as Odysseus. These clever variations on the original tale are so convincingly executed, they seem like natural parts of the narrative. Fully developed yet interconnected, the book’s chapters take the form of short stories or brief set pieces. Footnotes explaining the original text and expounding on the new add an extra layer to this delightfully innovative novel. Inventive and inspired, Mason’s book breathes new life into a time-honored epic.
WHEN IN ROME
With The Imperfectionists, his shrewd debut, Tom Rachman offers a compelling look at the news industry as it used to be. Set in the not-too-distant past, when the phrase “hot off the presses” still had meaning, the novel focuses on an English-language paper in Rome. Capturing the hectic pace that characterizes a newsroom, the novel unfolds in short chapters, each of which is centered around a different employee. Arthur Gopal, who writes obituaries, strives to do as little as possible at the paper, yet, when his personal life falls apart, he finds new inspiration in his work. Paris correspondent Lloyd Burko tries to extract state secrets from his son, but what he learns has more to do with family politics than government policy. Copyeditor Dave Belling—freshly fired—becomes romantically involved with the woman who laid him off. The paper that unites these disparate personalities is on the brink of collapse, which makes their stories all the more poignant. Rachman, a newspaperman himself, knows whereof he writes. This is a skillfully executed portrait of a culture that may soon be obsolete.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Featuring a deliciously twisty plot and a pair of unforgettable leading characters, Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America is a rip-roaring work of historical fiction. Olivier de Garmont, a fictional French aristocrat based on Alexis de Tocqueville, is the pampered son of protective parents who—prompted by France’s uncertain political climate—send him to safety in America. Watching over Olivier in the New World is an Englishman named Parrot. A member of the working class and tough as brass, Parrot has little patience for his spoiled charge. Olivier, for his part, is taken aback by the lack of manners and lust for money that seem to characterize most Americans. His adventures with Parrot in New York and Philadelphia, among other places, give rise to the sort of witty, sophisticated insights for which de Tocqueville was known. This complex and comedic work has earned Carey much well-deserved acclaim.