This extreme mind-bender is going to appeal hugely to those that love David Mitchell's puzzle box structure in Cloud Atlas, the paranoid/philosophical reality shifts of Philip K. Dick, the encyclopedic adventurousness of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and Baroque Cycle, William Gibson's razor-edged futuristic social dread, and perhaps even more so the epic literary tapestries of Thomas Pynchon, Wallace's Infinite Jest, and DeLillo's Underworld. Harkaway paints a cautionary future, an uncertain present, and a bloody past, all together in one hallucinatory mindscape of incredible storytelling bravura!
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway ($28.95*, Knopf Publishing Group), recommended by Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, KY.
Looking to dive into a world of witches, vampires, and demons?
Deborah Harkness' All Souls trilogy, which concludes with The Book of Life, is the richest portrayal of that universe since Dark Shadows (and I say that with pleasure and affection). I don't want to leak any spoilers here – you have to read the trilogy in sequence – but Harkness has invented a fascinating history for her creatures.
This is literary adult fantasy that stays deeply attached to the real world. And if you've read A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, you'll be very satisfied with the passion, terror, and (yes) humor Harkness uses to bring the saga of the Bishops and Clairmonts to a conclusion.
The Book of Life By Deborah Harkness ($28.95, Viking Adult), recommended by Rosemary, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh NC.
You don't need to be familiar with Chesnutt's or Hersh's work to appreciate this phenomenal book, but you will undoubtedly want to be once you've finished it. Hersh is a writer of intense and subtle beauty, and she will make you cry and feel a hundred other things with the power of her style alone. Through the tragic story of her close friend and tourmate, Chesnutt, Hersh evokes the torture of all that artistic genius encapsulates and makes that pain sing in a voice both opaque and elegant, grimy and pristine. Ultimately, this is a deeply affecting meditation on one's thrust toward 'important art' and on how music is a necessary expression of sadness and loneliness but also one of intense and inimitable beauty.
Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh ($14.95, University of Texas Press), recommended by Donovan, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL.
A huge best-seller in France, The Perfect Nanny packs a punch that its brief length belies. It addresses issues both topical and enduring through the lens of the relationship of a young professional Parisian couple and the caregiver they hire for their two young children when the mother has a chance to return to work.
The shock of the novel's chilling first sentence, "The baby is dead," is elegantly balanced by the complex issues Slimani addresses: our expectations of mothers' responsibilities, our connection to the people we employ, our view of immigrants, and the ways in which how see ourselves differs from the realities of who we really are.
This is a striking, powerful novel that, rightly, leaves us with more questions than answers. It's a book that doesn't let go easily, and as a reader, I was the better for that.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani ($16.00*, Penguin Books), recommended by Malaprop's Bookstore/Café, Asheville, NC.
An interesting take and an in depth look at the punctuation mark that haunts the literary and English speaking world alike. Cecilia Watson has brought us a book designated to those of us who just can't quite figure out how we feel about the semicolon.
Semicolon by Cecilia Watson ($19.99*, Ecco), recommended by Bookmarks, Bookmarks, NC.