READ CAREFULLY: MANY OF THESE SELECTIONS HAVE A MESSAGE, HIDDEN OR IN CLEAR VIEW.
Malin Persson Giolito, Simon and Schuster, $29.99 This book won Sweden’s crime novel of the year award. It’s obvious why. The plot follows the trial of an 18-year-old who shot every one of her classmates, including her lover. Only one student survived. His vital eyewitness testimony dissolves under interrogation by the defence counsel, a cool and cryptic professional who performs miracles with minimal evidence. The reader, stunned, must decide to what extent the defendant’s mother and father are to blame. They love and protect but they are devotees to their daughter, not parents. Her judgements, churning among all too recognisable emotions, expose the plight of young adults dependent on 24/7 connection. When there’s no response, desperation leads either to shutting down or acting out.
Dawn O’porter, Harper Collins, $29.99 I’m disappointed that so few authors have used the titanic lurch away from the old ways in which we used to interact. Social media features in most modern novels but it’s only on the surface. O’porter plunges down to the depths. While you’re squirming with mirth and horror at the viral video that undoes Tara, you’re made uneasy by Cam’s blog, which evaluates how we treat the childless. And as for Stella, does her tragedy have to be a three-ring circus? Display your life to an unseen public and they own you. O’porter, however, loves her three protagonists and concludes that when everyone you’re exposed to is either agog or cringing then at least you’ve proved that you don’t follow the herd. That’s her hashtag by the way.
THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS
Michael Finkel, Simon and Schuster, $29.99 Three decades spent hiding in the woods of Maine not far from a city is an unimaginable achievement in this day and age. However, Christopher Knight did just that. In winter he needed to steal food from cabins and eventually was apprehended by a game warden in 2013. His return to the company of humans was fraught with diffiffifficulty. Today he just wants to be left alone. What lingers after the last page is our lost opportunity to be part of the natural world.
Mick Herron, John Murray, $32.99 In this outrageous thriller, Slough House is where MI5 deposits those deemed not up to the job. A lifetime of pretend work at a cheap desk awaits and, of course, without budget or direction, they end up outsmarting the competitive agents at HQ. A retired MI5 luminary has gone senile and to avoid him giving away secrets, an “enhanced retirement plan” must be applied. You guessed it. A bullet in the head. Don’t be put offff by the untidy opening pages. By chapter four Herron’s comic genius is evident and he’s managed to get a grip on the plot.
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE
Gail Honeyman, Harper Collins, $29.99 At the office where Eleanor works with exemplary effifficiency, her less couth colleagues snigger behind her back — it’s her clothes, her funny way of taking everything literally. Half her face has been burnt by fifire. She has blanked out how it happened. Gradually there are changes. For one of her colleagues she is ever so slowly becoming more human. Quirky and wryly amusing.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, Corsair, $32.99 “Am I good?” asks a young Vietnamese refugee in one of Nguyen’s stories. The question recurs, sometimes referring to morality, sometimes to parenting or sexual performance. These newcomers don’t know what to make of what happens around them. The culture they grew up with — a composite of Asian heritage, French colonisation and accommodation to American forces — doesn’t fifit what they fifind in California. These short stories zero in on the mystery of whether or not we can shed one skin and grow another.