Is there anyone who hasn’t wondered which actions and incidents most gave shape to their lives? In Tessa Hadley’s Clever Girl, Stella is the author of her own life, recounting her story in a series of gracefully drawn but honestly expressed episodes starting in the 1960s and running to the present day.
The death that launches Yiyun Li’s second novel, Kinder Than Solitude, has been a long time coming. Twenty years before, Shaoai was mysteriously poisoned by someone close to her, leaving her crippled and diminished. Her death comes as a great relief for the novel’s three main characters, Moran, Ruyu and Boyang—once childhood friends in China, but now estranged. But with that sigh of relief comes the truth.
Even if your religious education didn’t extend beyond Sunday school, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with the biblical book of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who visits the belly of a big fish. Loosely building on that spare and enigmatic narrative, debut novelist Joshua Max Feldman has produced an affecting contemporary retelling of the tale, plausibly revealing what it might be like for a thoroughly modern man to find himself touched by the hand of God.
Patrick Ness has made a well-deserved name for himself in the realm of young adult fiction, where he’s crafted magical tales full of sensitivity and raw emotional energy. With The Crane Wife, he brings all of those talents to a story for adults, and the result is a viscerally beautiful, subtly magical and instantly memorable realistic fairy tale that will linger in your brain.
A Kafkaesque premise rests at the center of Jesse Ball’s intriguing fourth novel, Silence Once Begun. Oda Sotatsu, a 29-year-old man, is arrested in Osaka for his involvement in the disappearance of eight elderly people. The police have a signed confession from Oda, and he refuses to speak in his own defense. Indeed, he refuses to speak at all. But, as readers, we know that Oda did not commit the crime: He has signed the confession having lost a wager made with another man, Sato Kakuzo, and the man’s girlfriend, Jito Joo. Why has Oda admitted to something he didn’t do, and why is he willing to die for it?
An unnamed, ingenue heroine. A dramatic location by the sea. A wealthy and cultured older gentleman. If this sounds like the plot of the beloved mystery Rebecca, it is—but Rachel Pastan’s third novel pays homage to the Daphne du Maurier classic while adding a few new twists. Alena’s young heroine is a curator at a small art museum in the Midwest. Visiting the Venice Biennale with her employer, she is introduced to Bernard Augustin, the wealthy and enigmatic founder of the Nauquasset, a museum on Cape Cod that specializes in cutting-edge work.
If you knew the world was going to end in less than a week, how would you spend your final days? Though few people would likely answer that question by piling into a car and taking a road trip across the country, in Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California, that’s exactly what the Metcalfs choose to do. Believing they will soon ascend to their rightful home in the kingdom of heaven, this family of four sets out from Alabama with the goal of reaching California by the end of the week so that they might be among the last people on Earth to witness the impending Rapture.
In Richard Power’s latest novel, Orfeo, the last great problem for Peter Els begins when his old, beloved dog kicks the bucket. The poor dog’s death is messy—killed by his ex-wife, in his amateur biology lab. It’s present-day America, and a layperson messing with Petri dishes of weird bacteria is a no-no. Before Els knows it, men in hazmat suits come and confiscate some of his stuff. He goes out for his morning run, and when he comes back folks from what looks like Homeland Security have come to confiscate the rest of it. In response, Els does what he’s been doing most of his life—he runs.
Hilary Mantel sets a new standard for historical fiction with her latest novel Wolf Hall, a riveting portrait of Thomas Cromwell, chief advisor to King Henry VIII and a significant political figure in Tudor England. Mantel’s crystalline style, piercing eye and interest in, shall we say, the darker side of human nature, together with a real respect for historical accuracy, make this novel an engrossing, enveloping read.