By Carole Reedy
So many books, so little time. This month we’ll look at new releases, novellas and short stories, and a personal author recommendation.
A God In Ruins. One of the most anticipated recent releases surely is Kate Atkinson´s latest novel. It stands to reason that reviews will be mixed, given the enormous success of her previous effort Life After Life. Stephanie Merritt in the Observer warns against underestimating A God in Ruins, saying “Though it may appear to lack the bold formal conceit that made Life After Life so original, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Atkinson has abandoned her interest in authorial playfulness.” The book sold out in many bookstores immediately upon its release in May.
Atkinson’s writing career blossomed with Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which remains a favorite of many readers, and has continued with Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog, among others.
Finders Keepers is the second novel in a new trilogy by Stephen King that began with Mr. Mercedes. Janet Maslin, revered critic of the New York Times, thinks this new one lacks the “high drama of the opening installment, but it has greater depth and time for reflection.” Mr. Mercedes received praise from reviewers and was thought to be among the best of King’s vast collection.
King is popular with a wide variety of readers. It seems no matter what one’s preference in reading, a Stephen King novel often crosses our paths. King is entertaining yet insightful, and he certainly deserves his moniker “master of the macabre.” Finders Keepers celebrates his 55th published novel.
In a recent interview in the New York Times, King said that were his biography to be written he would want it done by Dave Barry, the witty comical writer from Chicago and Miami. King also expressed embarrassment at never having read Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun or Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past (and rightfully so!).
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins has hit the track running, garnering many rave reviews. It’s a quick read that many are picking up at the airport this summer before they board for long journeys to Europe or the Far East.
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison received mixed reviews, as did Atkinson, but Bernadine Evaristo (again in the Observer) says the book proves that Morrison’s writing “is still as fresh, adventurous and vigorous as ever.”
Flood of Fire by Amitov Ghosh (due to arrive in bookstores August 4). Those of us who read Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke have been patiently, or impatiently, awaiting Ghosh’s third installment to the IBIS trilogy, which engages us in the 1839 embargoed trade of opium in China and the interference of the British in colonial India. In his latest, our favorite cast of characters returns to tell the story of the Opium Wars. If you haven’t read Ghosh’s other novels, The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace, consider one of these while awaiting publication of Flood of Fire. Both books have received applause from readers and critics.
Go Set a Watchman The entire reading public, from avid to occasional readers, awaits the July 14 publication of Harper Lee’s first published novel since To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, a novel that continues to sell more than a million copies annually. In 1962 the novel was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck.
Much scuttle and controversy surrounds the new publication, including whether Lee actually wanted the draft manuscript of this previous novel (found by her friend and lawyer) published, and whether this is Lee’s decision or that of other interested parties. The proof will be in the reading, and we’re eagerly awaiting the July release date to see if Lee’s new book can hold a candle to To Kill a Mockingbird.
More Harper Lee news: At this writing, a collection of her letters, written between 1956 and 1961, will be auctioned in New York sometime in June. In addition, the lot will include an autographed copy of the 35th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. The letters are anticipated to fetch up to US $250,000.
Did you know?
To Kill a Mockingbird was written when one of Lee’s friends bought her some time off work. In 1956, Harper Lee’s friend Michael Brown and a number of other friends clubbed together and gave her a year’s wages for Christmas: ‘You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.’ She used the year off work to write To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. When Ishiguro started this novel, which the New York Times calls the “weirdest, riskiest and most ambitious thing he’s published in his celebrated career,” criticism from his wife after reading the opening pages (“This will not do”) caused him to set aside the book for six years. The recurring themes in his novels appear in this combination of fantasy and literary fiction. David Mitchell, author of the acclaimed Cloud Atlas, said if “forced at knifepoint to name his favorite Ishiguro novel, it would be The Buried Giant.”
Mr. Ishiguro won the Man Booker Prize in 1989 for Remains of the Day, the story of an English butler who dedicates his life to service. Ishiguro has been shortlisted for the prize several times recently.
Novellas and short stories
Scottish, Rhodesian-born Alexander McCall Smith’s stories have captured the hearts of a cornucopia of readers. One of his fans put it simply: “This is the way the world should be.” McCall Smith’s loyal readers are continually satisfied and amazed by the sheer number of pages he writes each year, producing several new books for each of his series. With themes developed with a sense of humor and a smack of philosophy, simplicity is the secret to the success of these highly amusing, yet thought-provoking, novels. I’ve never come across a negative comment or harsh criticism of these works. In addition, he writes a series of children’s books.
You would have to live in a cave not to have heard of the simple adventures of Mma Precious Ramotswe, star of The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. The first book of the same title sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. Currently, you can enjoy 15 of these delightful novels, which take place in Botswana.
If you’re unaware of McCall Smith’s other four series, do check them out. Nine books make up the daily adventures of the 44 Scotland Street series. Nine more explore Isabel Dalhousie’s adventures as an amateur sleuth while she pursues classical music, young men, and suspicious deaths in The Sunday Philosophy Club series. Three books set in Pimlico (an upper-class London neighborhood) with some quite eccentric characters make up the Corduroy Mansions series. Finally, four books in the Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld Entertainment series, the first of which is intriguingly entitled Portuguese Irregular Verbs.
Not enough? McCall Smith has published numerous books of short stories and stand-alone novels. His list of children’s books, published first in 1978, is too long to even attempt to recommend some of them here. His nonfiction writing concerns medical law and bioethics. The series books are ideal for beach reading as they are short novels published in a comfortable-sized paperback book form with good-sized print.
If you haven’t read these…
The Neapolitan tetralogy by Elena Ferrante begins with three published novels (in English): My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. The fourth, The Story of the Lost Child, will be released in English on September 1, 2015.
“Days in the lives of a group of young people in an untrendy area of Naples” is one way to describe these compelling novels. A friend said “How is it that one can become so involved and intrigued in books that follow the daily lives of these young, rather normal people in a shabby area of Naples?” (The first book begins when they are eight years old and continues through high school, and onward.) The answer is simple: it’s the writing. There’s no question that the success of these three novels is based on the quality of Ferrante’s writing and her ability to draw you into her world. The process is a detailed and slow one. There is no analysis of anyone or anything. Rather, Ferrante takes us through the characters’ lives and decisions that ultimately affect their future.
She says (in the interview mentioned in the next paragraph) that she “can’t respect the rules of genres—the reader who reads me hoping for a thriller or a love story or a bildungsroman would surely be disappointed. Only the thread of events interests me. In the Neapolitan Novels, the plot avoided every kind of trap set by fixed rules and convention.”
The Paris Review just published the first in-person interview with Ferrante (a pen name). Until now, she has given no interviews over the phone and she doesn’t make public appearances. The interviewers were her husband-and-wife publishers of Italian fiction, Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, and their daughter, Eva. It’s a lengthy conversationin which Ferrante talks about writing and the self-promotion imposed by the media. “This self-promotion diminishes the actual work of art, whatever that art may be, and it has become universal.”
Of writers and writing she so eloquently says, “Anyone who puts writing at the center of his life ends up in the situation of Dencombe in Henry James’ The Middle Years, who, about to die at the peak of success, hopes to have one more opportunity to test himself and discover whether he can do better than what he’s already done. Alternatively, he lives with the desperate feeling–expressed in the exclamation of Proust’s Bergotte when he sees Vermeer’s little patch of yellow wall–‘That is how I ought to have written.’”