How to Be Both, by the British writer Ali Smith, tells two interconnected stories. The first is about Georgina, known as George, a 1960s teenager outside of London grieving the death of her mother and taking her first tentative steps toward love. The other is the story of the 15th-century Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, a historical figure responsible for the remarkable frescos in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy—and about whom very little else is known.
A Map of Betrayal, the new novel from the PEN/Faulkner-winning author Ha Jin (Waiting, Nanjing Requiem) is a haunting tale of two families and two countries that are linked together by the life of a single spy. When American-born professor of Asian Studies Lillian Shang inherits her father Gary’s journals, she uncovers details of his four-decade career as a spy for Communist China. But when history threatens to repeat itself in the next generation, Lillian must struggle with issues of loyalty and betrayal.
Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is an appealing mix of archival mystery, ghost story and historical novel. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt set in a former artist’s colony, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place. I was able to catch up with Rebecca at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books.
In December 1976, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert to promote political unity, armed gunmen walked into reggae star Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road in Kingston and began shooting. Marley sustained injuries in his arm and chest; his wife, Rita, was hit as she raced to protect their children; and his manager, Don Taylor, was also injured. In Marlon James’ powerful new novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, the attack is the centerpiece of a blistering commentary on Jamaica in the 1970s and its inextricable links both to Cold War politics and to the drug wars of the following decade.
In 1976, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert to promote political unity, armed gunmen walked into reggae star Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road in Kingston and began shooting in what was a failed assassination attempt. In prize-winning author Marlon James’ groundbreaking new novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, the attack becomes a centerpiece of a blistering commentary on Jamaican society in the 1970s and its inextricable links both to Cold War politics and to the drug wars of the 1980s.
Newcomers to Caitlin Moran’s candor and upfront feminist sensibility should prepare themselves: How to Build a Girl is an earthy, sometimes outrageous but always funny story about a 1990s teenager from an eccentric family in a Northern England council house who becomes a rock critic.
Feminist, columnist, activist, humorist, memoirist—Caitlin Moran is a woman of many descriptors. She can now add "novelist" to that list: How to Build a Girl goes on sale this week. Something of a roman à clef, this hilarious, poignant and no-holds-barred coming-of-age tale stars a girl from a council estate in the Midlands who, like Moran herself, became a rock critic at a young age. We asked Moran a few questions about her fiction debut.
It is 1922, and England and her citizens are still recovering from the upheaval of the First World War: High unemployment, disillusioned ex-soldiers and severely strained circumstances are commonplace. Twenty-seven-year-old Frances Wray and her mother are living in South London. Both of Frances’ brothers died in the war, and her father’s recent death left the two women close to financial ruin. Even with the dismissal of servants and Frances taking over the housework and meals, the Wrays no longer have enough to live on. Their decision to take in lodgers, or “paying guests” as they genteelly refer to them, leads to an event as ultimately life-altering as the war itself.
Dan Kelly, the protagonist of Christos Tsiolkas’ latest novel, is not a likable character. He’s not likable in the novel’s first pages, when he’s a scholarship student at a posh boys’ school in Australia, and he remains unlikable at the end, when he’s a 30-something who doesn’t know what to do with his life. However, by the end of the book, we understand Dan, a little. This is why you will stay with Barracuda, why you will keep turning the pages even as you grit your teeth.
Readers of Amy Bloom’s riotous new novel, Lucky Us, might want to pack a few snacks and buckle their seatbelts for this highly entertaining ride, which kicks off when half-sisters Eva and Iris hightail it from small-town Ohio to pursue their dreams in Hollywood.