Nick Lake wears two publishing hats, as publishing director at HarperCollins Children's Books U.K. and as author of the Printz Award-winning YA novel In Darkness. Next up for him is Hostage Three, slated for release on November 12. Lake describes this literary thriller about a family taken hostage by Somali pirates as a fairy tale. (Read our interview with Lake to find out why.)
We were curious about the books Lake has been reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites:
By Sally Gardner
This deservedly beat my book to the Carnegie prize. A unique story, fusing alternate history with mystery, bold storytelling technique and devastating emotion. I don't even want to say much about the plot because it's a story that should be told by its odd, wonderful, irrepressible narrator. It's also a novel that will stay with anyone who reads it for a long time, I think. I read it before I did an event with Sally, and it still ripples across my mind a year later. It struck my editor side perhaps even more than my writer side: I get hundreds of submissions a year, and so I know how rare it is to see someone pull off something new. But about a third of the way into this book, something happens that switches it onto entirely other, slipperier rails: you think you're in a quirky voice story, and then BOOM—you're in a whole different, and darker place. Original in the best sense of the word, with at least one narrative device I don't think I've seen before. Phenomenal YA fiction.
THE TRANSIT OF VENUS
By Shirley Hazzard
This beautiful book was recommended to me by the editor Mark Richards, who had recently discovered it and believed it to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, albeit sadly neglected. I now agree with him. The novel presents itself initially as a lyrical, sweeping family saga with unusual psychological depth, in which swathes of time pass without a great deal happening, apart from travails of love and life. In fact a lot of Amazon reviewers appear to give up halfway through, on account of the slow, poetic cadence and buildup of detail. But they're missing out and missing the point, because this is one of those rare books where every single apparently inconsequential detail comes together in the end to spring a fiendishly clever trap on the reader, forcing a reappraisal of everything that has gone before. The final revelation is simply astonishing, like a drop from a pipette into a solution that causes it to crystallize instantly, showing how a single act long ago can resonate through the lifetimes of a whole group of people. It's not a twist—it's a truth that unites, and explains, everything. Perhaps the most extraordinary novel I've read in the last decade.
Helprin's is also a voice that divides people, though while Hazzard goes for lyricism, his tone is one of baroque complication and grandiosity (or verbosity and pompousness, if you're one of the Goodreads one-star reviewers). It's strange because I'm usually allergic to what I tend to see as overwriting—I like minimalist prose—but I feel that Helprin pulls it off. I read this on the strength of his more well-known Winter's Tale, which I almost loved—though I admired its ambition more than I actually liked it. Yet, to my surprise, I truly did love this epic new novel. I was mystified, actually, by the slightly mixed reviews it received.
It's a hard book to describe. An American special forces soldier returns to Manhattan after WWII and falls in love with a rich girl who is also a beautiful stage singer. At the same time, he is being harassed by the Mafia, who want to force him out of the luxury leather goods business he inherited from his father. Thrilling, romantic, teetering on the verge of being over the top, I loved every moment of it and can't understand those who found it bloated. Yes, it's full of description—mostly of Helprin's beloved New York. Yes, the central relationship lacks nuance and balance—this is very much a "love at first sight" story. Yes, the worldview that animates the novel's stage and actors is a little conservative. But I don't think the author intended anything remotely connected to realism. This is a mystical novel in which love is an absolute, and order and beauty are built into the fabric of the cosmos.
Most of all, it impressed me—as an editor—by the way in which the sumptuous description and romance are lacquered on top of a proper, 500BHP engine of a plot. It struck me almost as an attempt to achieve, in book form, the sweep, propulsion and visual spectacle of a movie—like a mad mixture of Holly Golightly, Bond, and Private Ryan. This is a book in which people swim across fast-flowing rivers at night to gate-crash engagement parties, parachute into occupied France to single-handedly blow up a bridge and slow the German forces, ambush Mafia goons on country roads, survive shipwrecks. . . . It never lets up, constantly pushing the characters toward their destiny. And it fairly crackles with energy, movement and—of course—light and shadow. I'd recommend it to every teenager or adult with a dash of romance in their souls. One of those books I wish I could read for the first time again.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Hostage Three or any of Lake's—highly and thoroughly!—recommended books?