It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
Priya Parmar is a former freelance editor whose first novel, Exit the Actress, was based on the 17th-century actress (and royal mistress) Ellen "Nell" Gwyn. Her second novel, Vanessa and Her Sister, is based on the life of the artist Vanessa Bell. In this behind-the-book essay, Parmar explains how important—and how personal—choosing a historical fiction subject can be.
Priya Parmar’s second novel opens an intimate, witty and highly entertaining window into the early 20th-century circle of writers, philosophers and artists known as London’s Bloomsbury Group. They met several times a week at the homes of Vanessa and Clive Bell and Vanessa’s brother and sister, Adrian and Virginia Stephen (later Woolf). This erudite group also included the novelist E.M. Forster; biographer Lytton Strachey; artist Duncan Grant; art critic Roger Fry, curator of New York’s Metropolitan Museum; and economist John Maynard Keynes. The Stephen siblings—Vanessa, Virginia, Adrian and Thoby, the eldest brother— moved to the “bohemian hinterland” of Bloomsbury after their parents died, and Thoby’s Cambridge friends quickly adopted it as their favorite gathering place.
Three novels explore the deep influence human relationships can have on a life.
In Anthony Doerr’s riveting novel, All the Light We Cannot See, we meet 16-year-old blind girl Marie-Laure and 17-year-old Nazi soldier Werner as they are hunkered down in separate corners of the French seaside town of Saint-Malo during the American liberation of the Nazi occupied city. Through alternating chapters that jump back and forth in time between 1934 and 1944, Doerr beautifully tells the story of two children doomed by the war and destined to meet.
British-born Maud Heighton, the protagonist of Imogen Robertson’s latest page-turner, The Paris Winter, couldn’t have picked a worse time to come study painting at Academie Lafond. It’s the winter of 1909-1910, when the Seine overflowed its banks, flooding people out of their homes and sucking away the very ground beneath their feet.
Set in the 1800s, Citizens Creek chronicles two different lives in its two parallel sections: those of Cow Tom, a slave born in Alabama and sold to a Creek Indian chief prior to his 10th birthday, and his granddaughter, Rose.
Christina Baker Kline's many fans packed the house for her session at the 2014 Southern Festival of Books. BookPage had the pleasure of speaking with the author about the book's runaway success and what she's working on next.
Eliza Granville’s suspenseful novel hearkens back to the fairy tales we remember from childhood—but not the sanitized Disney versions. These are the darker tales about witches, ovens and children lost in the deep woods, fleeing for their lives.
Three books following unconventional lives make great picks for reading groups this month.