Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Releases from Martin Amis, Hillary Mantel, Marlon James, Lauren Oliver, and Neel Mukherjee (and of course Garth Stein).

Several books coming today have had heightened interest. One of them is The Zone of Interest (Knopf), the new novel from Martin Amis, which has gotten much better reviews than his previous release. FOB Dennis had me put one on hold for him last week. Yes, you can do that too! Publishers Weekly writes: "An absolute soul-crusher of a book, the brilliant latest from Amis is an astoundingly bleak love story, as it were, set in a German concentration camp, which Thomsen, one of the book’s three narrators, refers to as Kat Zet...the result is devastating." And Alan Taylor in The Herald (Scotland) writes "The Zone Of Interest may be his greatest book; it is that good. You want to put it down but you know you can't and you know that you shouldn't. It is inventive, awful, testing and, like Picasso's Guernica, incongruously beautiful. Would that Primo Levi were around to read it."

Similarly, Hilary Mantel's The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Henry Holt) has readers abuzz. In her case, however, it is due to reviews, but to a conservative backlash in Great Britain. Now that I understand the politics better, I would suspect the backlash is specifically in England, but probably not Scotland. Here's Kelly Lawler's take in USA Today. Also The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Ms. Mantel. Ellen Gamerman noted that "though the pieces are unrelated, certain patterns appear. Deformed, ailing or dead children figure in four stories, three pieces feature women with mysterious or undiagnosed ailments and two tales touch on the dread of potent prescription drugs."

Riverhead hopes to make a splash with the new novel from Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings, which should arrive in the store around Thursday or Friday. It will be hard to say goodby to these Penguin soft Thursday landings. After the distribution consolidation, Penguin books will move to the Random House standard of Tuesdays for everything. His new book is inspired an attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. It's interesting that it comes at the same time as John Ridley's Jimi, another look at a pivotal moment in a prominent Black musician. Michiko Kakutani broke pub date with her New York Times review to set the tone for this "monumental work." She wrote in her September 21 review: "Brief History draws heavily upon White’s Catch a Fire and a 1991 article that he wrote for Spin magazine. But Mr. James, who was born in Kingston in 1970, is really interested in using both the facts and the speculation surrounding the murder attempt on Marley as a portal into Jamaican culture and politics. Marley (who is referred to here almost always as 'the Singer') becomes an almost peripheral figure in this novel, as the story focuses in on fictional versions of 'the people around him, the ones who come and go.'"

Out last week is Rooms  (Ecco), the first "adult" novel from Lauren Oliver, and it's a ghost story. A patriarch has died, the alienated family has come to claim their inheritance, but two invited guests are also on hand. Publishers Weekly's starred review notes: "Oliver makes vivid use of both dead and living characters—all of whom are trapped in the past and striving toward a happier existence—to narrate her intricate, suspenseful story." That said, I found more blogger write ups than traditional reviews when searching the web. It's not because it's a ghost story; many authors in the genre have found broad critcal acceptance, including such developing writers as Rebecca Makkai, let alone Sarah Waters, and Audre Niffenegger. Maybe it's a bias against young adult writers by critics, or perhaps they are just holding it for today's release of another ghost-story novel, Garth Stein's A Sudden Light (who will be at Boswell on Saturday, October 4, 7 pm).

Norton is trying to rush out Neel Mukherjee's The Lives of Others, which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. They work on a pub date model, so usually an October 1 pub date would have the books on sale about a week or two ahead of time. The story is about the extended Ghosh family, all living on a floor of the patriarch's manse. It's the 1960s and things are not going well, with the various siblings and their in-laws fighting over the family business, while unrest brews around them. A. S. Byatt writes in The Guardian: "One of Mukherjee's great gifts is precisely his capacity to imagine the lives of others. He can move from inside one head to inside another in a conversation or conflict and take the reader with him. He isn't really an omniscient narrator, there is no authorial voice – just an imagination that is more than adequate to its task." Should come in any day!

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