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Category Archive for 'England'

Author Deborah Levy’s unique and hypnotic character study opens with Saul Adler, a twenty-eight-year-old British historian writing a lecture on “the psychology of male tyrants,” in which he describes the way Stalin flirted with women. It is September, 1988, and in three days Saul will travel from London to East Germany, the GDR, to “research the cultural opposition to the rise of fascism in the 1930s at Humboldt University.” He will leave behind his photographer girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau, who is just beginning to be recognized for her artistic photography and is about to have a show in London. Saul will live in a divided country which has only recently allowed albums by the Beatles and Bob Dylan to be released there, the lyrics having been studied by officials and finally cleared of accusations of “cultural corruption.” It is Jennifer’s idea to re-shoot the iconic Beatles photograph of Abbey Road by showing Saul himself crossing Abbey Road, so he can give a copy of it as a present to Luna, the Beatles-fan-sister of Walter Muller, who will be his translator in East Germany. When, during the photo shoot, he is grazed by a car, smashing its outside mirror, he barely avoids catastrophe. Subsequent sections are set in Berlin in 1988 and in London again in 2016, as Saul is forced to examine his previously unexamined life, from which he learns much about reality and man’s place in the world.

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Before one reads even the first sentence of THE COCKROACH, author Ian McEwan uses the introductory epigraph to clearly establish the satirical nature of this work. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, an existential novel in which the main character, Gregor Samsa, finds himself gradually transformed from a human being into a cockroach, McEwan gives that concept a twist. Here main character Jim Sams has experienced the reverse, starting out as a cockroach and becoming human. This change has come suddenly. After waking up in bed one morning, he sees that he now has fewer legs and, most “revolting,” he now feels a “slab of slippery meat…squat and wet in his mouth…[which] moved of its own accord to explore the vast cavern of his mouth.” His color has changed, as has his vision, and his “vulnerable” flesh now lies outside his skeleton. Just last night this new human had made a difficult trip in his previous body from the Palace of Westminster through the underground garage, the gutters, and across Parliament Square. A political demonstration had been going on, complete with horse guards and police, but somehow he had avoided them, making his way from there to the bedroom of a residence for the rest of the night. Now, however, he remembers he is on an important, solitary mission. When the phone beside the bed rings, he is barely able to move in his new body, and he misses the call, only to be greeted by a young woman at his door who says, “Prime Minister, it’s almost seven thirty.” There is a Cabinet meeting scheduled for nine o’clock.

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Kate Atkinson has rightfully developed a huge following with her impeccably crafted novels filled with ingenious plots, mysteries, and themes highlighted by unexpected ironies and dark humor. This, her twelfth novel, is the fifth in which she features Jackson Brodie, a detective who never seems to get his life together personally. The book requires patience, well rewarded at the end. The first plot, and Atkinson’s whole approach, is exemplified by the ironies involved with the arrival of two girls from Poland to work for a seemingly honest company, which is really a front for the sex trade operating from a small Yorkshire village. Jackson Brodie is busy with his son and working another case as a private eye and has little to do with this one until late in the novel. Many characters and complications illustrate life in this village, as murder and other horrors take place, but Atkinson plans and resolves every question, and the conclusion is a spectacular grand finale.

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Those who love fantasy, dystopian fiction, sci-fi, and mythical characters will find much to love in this novel, which maintains its own otherworldly style as the novel progresses. The “rules” of fiction and its long history of development are challenged here, as author Max Porter tries his hand at bending, breaking, and ignoring many old traditions regarding the author and his relationship with his readers. Lanny’s story is neither quiet nor reflective. Instead, it explodes with coarse energy, opening with the lead description of Dead Papa Toothwort, an unusual earth spirit who has been hiding below ground for an unknown number of years, waiting for the best moment to reappear on earth. When Toothwort hears the voice of Lanny, a young child, he becomes fascinated with his life, and begins to take some actions, and when Lanny eventually disappears, the community is frantic to find him. The involvement of Toothwort is a question, as the community begins to fall apart analyzing what is happening.

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Throw Me to the Wolves is a book which inevitably will be called a “murder mystery,” though that so underestimates McGuinness’s literary performance that it is almost an insult to limit it that way. Here the author uses the real murder of a young woman and its aftermath in the small British community in which she and the suspect both live as the starting point for a comprehensive study of the town’s various social groups, their values, their history, and the extent to which the citizens will force their wills on others to protect their own vision of what a community is and should be. What begins as a “detective story” quickly becomes an enthralling story of social interaction and reaction, a story of deep conflicts and divides, one which, ultimately, treads that narrow line between protecting social values and protecting one’s own sense of self. The novel, set in the 1980s, is based on a real murder and the teacher who becomes a suspect. A brilliant and lively study of the power of rumor and the press, and the state of the news media today. A big favorite for the year so far.

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