This fall, publishers are pulling out all the stops in an effort to encourage everyone to read more and to choose books as holiday gifts.
Recent releases by Pat Conroy, Richard Russo and Lorrie Moore are joined in October by Margaret Atwood’s newest novel, the fifth installment in Louise Penny’s mystery series set in Quebec, and the second novel by Audrey Niffenegger, author of the bestselling The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Louise Penny’s first novel, Still Life, came out in 2006 and won several mystery awards. Her books, set in Three Pines, a small fictional town in Quebec, feature Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, a humble, uxorious man whose brilliant detective work inevitably identifies the perpetrator. Despite his successes, Gamache never allows himself complacency; his compassion extends beyond the victims to the criminals themselves, who often act out of fear rather than innate evil nature. Three Pines is a fairy tale small town whose denizens feature prominently in every mystery, and in The Brutal Telling, the fifth in the series, one of the townspeople is implicated in the violent murder of a man known only as the Hermit. Which of the characters we’ve come to know and love could have committed the dreadful act? Mystery lovers, especially fans of Donna Leon’s Brunetti series, will love Louise Penny and her intrepid Chief Inspector.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger has the same wonderful writing as The Time Traveler’s Wife, but the premise is somewhat different. Instead of time travel, this novel has ghosts, sets of twins and musings on how to achieve an individual identity. The plot is fascinatingly complex and the characters slowly reveal themselves to be deeply flawed, but the interactions between them and their intersecting relationships keep the reader involved and wondering how it will all play out. Don’t go into this book expecting the romance of Niffenegger’s first novel otherwise you will be disappointed. This title is sure to be a book group favorite–there are many topics for discussion, including the characters’ motivations, the nature of life after death, and ultimately, who did what to whom?
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood’s newest novel, is a companion piece to 2003’s Oryx & Crake. Both novels are set in a dystopian future in which climate change, biogenetic engineering and social inequity have created the perfect scenario for civilization’s collapse. Ren and Toby, the main protagonists are members of God’s Gardeners, whose doctrine merges religion with science; each chapter is titled for one of the sect’s feast days and starts with a sermon and a hymn that sets the tone for the chapter. Both narrators survived the natural disaster that precipitated society’s demise and now they are looking for other friends who may have survived while avoiding the survivors (former prison inmates, corrupt police officers and dangerous genetically-spliced species) whose intentions towards lone females are less than friendly. Despite its end-of-the-world outlook, this novel is less bleak and depressing than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Characters from Oryx & Crake make appearances here, but you needn’t have read the previous novel to enjoy this one. As always, Atwood’s newest book is provocative and timely–this is an absorbing read for both Atwood’s fans and those new to her work.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.