It’s a favorite trick among literary novelists: use a classic work of literature as a launching pad for an investigation into favored themes. Jean Rhys did it with Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel of sorts to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. J.M. Coetzee has done it twice, first in Foe, in which he reimagined Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of a woman, and then, more daringly, in The Childhood of Jesus. Now essayist and playwright Caryl Phillips takes the work of a different Brontë—Emily—as the inspiration for his latest novel, The Lost Child.
Halfway through Rachel Basch’s third novel, The Listener, the reader gets the feeling that the title is ironic. Malcolm Dowd is a psychotherapist at the college in his town. His job is to listen; no doubt his skill at listening has saved the sanity or even the lives of the sad people who unburden themselves in his office. But when it comes to his own loved ones, Malcolm Dowd is about as deaf as a stump.
Young William Wyeth sets out from St. Louis as part of a fur-trapping brigade in 1826, hoping to prove to his family back East that his wandering, capricious nature can be put to good use. Wrestling with his insecurities spurs him forward into the relatively uncharted land west of the settled United States, filled with wild game, angry natives and endless potential.
In V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, three versions of London exist side by side in parallel universes. There’s Grey London, where magic is basically extinguished; Red London, where it’s abundant; and White London, where it’s somewhere in between (and where the control of it as a resource is jealously and viciously contested). There was also a fourth—Black London—whose inhabitants were devoured by magic and which should no longer exist. Schwab’s male protagonist, Kell, is one of the few with the power to travel between those Londons, and as such, serves as a diplomatic courier of sorts between the monarchies of each.
Reif Larsen waits 200 pages before betraying his literary lineage by using the phrase “gravity’s rainbow.” For in his sprawling, pyrotechnic second novel, I Am Radar, one is never far from Pynchon’s masterpiece, that once-groundbreaking combination of adolescent hilarity and theoretical physics. The authors share a soaring erudition and ambition—evidenced by the length and ostentation of their books. But where Pynchon’s main theme might be a paranoiac fear of annihilation and conspiracy, Larsen’s seems to be an affirmation of the pathetic randomness of life. It’s telling that his previous book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, was made into a film by the director of Amélie, and his new release resembles the joyful, madcap creations of Wes Anderson.
Crime fiction groupies can usually form a pretty quick mental picture of the cop, PI or little old lady detective in any new mystery novel, and that take remains, embedded in the reader’s imagination, for the duration of the story.
It’s a glad thing when a reader encounters a character so compelling that you want to punch him in the nose. Such abhorrence—it’s not really hatred—can be as pleasurable in its own way as love. Such is the aggravation caused by Jonas Karlsson’s weird, insufferably arrogant, not quite neuro-normal protagonist in the crisp, novella-length book The Room.
When 22-year-old Alice becomes pregnant out of wedlock in the early 1930s, both she and her family fear disgrace. Her mother sends her from London to the Gloucestershire countryside to await the baby’s birth at a place called Fiercombe Manor, after which she will give the baby to an orphanage. Her mother’s old friend, Mrs. Jelphs, is the housekeeper at the empty manor, and she promises to keep watch over Alice, who has concocted a cover story of a recently deceased husband.
The great Richard Price (Clockers, Lush Life) dons a new literary persona as Harry Brandt for this crackling thriller. Haunted NYPD Detective Billy Graves' very name suggests not only his bleak working hours but also a death that landed him on the, well, graveyard shift.
There’s something irresistible about a boarding school novel: the picturesque grounds; the tight-knit community of teachers and students and staff; the routine of seminars, lacrosse games and chapel; the inevitable romances that bud in such an insular world. In The Half Brother, her second novel after 2010’s sensual The Swimming Pool, Holly LeCraw has created an appealing setting in the Abbott School, a campus at the top of a ridge in north Massachusetts where azaleas and cherry blossoms surround the stone and clapboard buildings, and the grass almost shimmers with mist.