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Category Archive for 'Book Club Suggestions'

From the opening paragraph, author Tanguy Viel is off and running with a propulsive story which never lets down and never quits until the last possible moment, when its ending comes as a relief or an irony to the involved reader. Set in Finistere, a depressed waterfront community in Brittany in the late 1990s, a man stands before a judge, trying to explain how and why he has killed another man aboard that man’s own Merry Fisher boat, and then returned home to await the inevitable arrival of the local police a few hours later. When he sees them arriving, he cannot help but admit that he “wouldn’t have done anything different…I would have done the same thing, heaved Antoine Lazenec overboard the same way and brought the boat back in the same way, following the channel to the yacht harbor while respecting the green and red buoys like railroad signals…” The killer, Martial Kermeur, is anxious to set the record straight, and he is impressed that this judge is “thirty, at most” and really seems to want to hear him out. In descriptive and involving prose, Kermeur describes his thoughts – “no they weren’t thoughts, images maybe…still whirling around.” And then suddenly, he sees the whole picture and begins: “It’s about a run-of-the-mill swindle, Your Honor, that’s all.”

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Written in 1936 and out of print for thirty years, A Puzzle for Fools has now been resurrected as part of Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series – and what a classic it is, with one of best and most surprising conclusions ever. The novel – hugely successful when it was initially published – established “Patrick Quentin” as a popular writer, quite different from some of his contemporaries in that he was more interested in the psychology of his characters than many of his contemporaries, who were still following a predictable formula for their plots. For Quentin, a pseudonym for Hugh Callingham Wheeler, in collaboration with Richard Wilson Webb, this is the first of nine novels featuring main character Peter Duluth, a Broadway director whose wife died in a fire at the theatre, and who became an alcoholic as a result. Admitting himself to a sanitarium to dry out, he becomes involved in the search for a patient who has been tormenting other patients in their sleep. Eventually, he is involved in searching for a murderer. One of the best and most surprising conclusions ever.

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In the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullman summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him and her mother, Liv Ullmann. The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative. Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader, and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed. Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

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WINNER of the IMPAC Dublin Award, this novel is set in rural Norway with a swirling chronology which incorporates both modern times and, briefly, the days of Norway’s occupation by the Germans during World War II. Powerful and rich thematically, the novel focuses on the life of Trond Sander, a sixty-seven-year-old man, as he relives events which occurred when he was a teen. After the war, in 1948, when Trond was fifteen, he and his father spent the summer together in a cabin in the countryside of Norway, near the Swedish border, a time which affected his entire life. As the novel opens, the aged Trond has returned to a cabin in that same village, intending to live there in retirement, wanting to be alone but living independently, though the reasons for his self-imposed solitude are not clear, even to him. Nature is the important factor in his new life in retirement, and the lyricism with which he views that nature and its power is palpable. At the same time, he is aware this “simple” life will be difficult, with many responsibilities which only he can fulfill.

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Returning to Prague for the location of this novel, after setting The Glass Room there in 2009, author Simon Mawer uses his familiarity with Prague, and his obvious love for it, to create this stirring novel of political history and intrigue. Set during the almost magical Prague Spring of 1968, a time in which Russian influence had waned and a broader view of socialism and some new freedoms were being celebrated by students and political writers in Prague, Mawer focuses on “the fleeting nature of presence” as the Prague Spring is cancelled by the sudden arrival of half a million Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviet Union, which went on to occupy the country for the next twenty-three years. A writer who focuses primarily on people and their lives, rather than on politics or cultural movements, Mawer brings the Prague Spring to life by focusing on two couples who come together in Prague, live and love, engage in adventure, and find their lives permanently changed by the arrival of the Soviet-led troops. The couples represent different backgrounds, and they experience the Prague Spring in different ways. Each has connections with people from Prague who help them during the danger which evolves, providing a broader picture of the events as they affect all the people of Prague, instead of the more limited focus which might have occurred with fewer main characters. This is a carefully developed novel, filled with fascinating history and sidelights involving literature, music, and popular culture, a fine addition to Mawer’s bibliography.

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