Top-drawer fic­tion set to fly off the shelves this Christ­mas

These books should get you into hol­i­day mode, writes CRAIG SELIG­MAN

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - BOOKS -

OUR FA­VORITE works of fic­tion this year will take you from a trad­ing colony in 19th cen­tury Ja­pan to a boys school in present-day Dublin. Room by Emma Donoghue (Lit­tle, Brown).

A 19-year-old uni­ver­sity stu­dent is ab­ducted by a loath­some creep; when the story opens, she’s been held cap­tive in a small cham­ber for seven years. Donoghue’s novel has the mak­ings of an un­bear­ably tense thriller. The sur­prise is how much more it is grip­ping, be­cause it’s nar­rated by the five-year-old boy who was born in cap­tiv­ity, also af­fect­ing and, be­lieve it or not, sweet. Free­dom by Jonathan Franzen (Far­rar, Straus and Giroux/Fourth Es­tate).

This mon­u­men­tal tragi­com­edy of de­pres­sive love savours, and even cel­e­brates, the hor­rors of the Amer­i­can fam­ily: the ter­ri­ble things spouses do to each other and to their chil­dren, and the poi­sonous cold­ness with which the chil­dren take re­venge. If that sounds glum, try read­ing a few pages. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing, hi­lar­i­ous and just about im­pos­si­ble to put down. The Ask by Sam Lipsyte (Far­rar, Straus and Giroux).

A sad-sack uni­ver­sity fundraiser has to suck up to an old class­mate who’s made it big in or­der to se­cure a do­na­tion and save his job.

The tone is funny-aw­ful: Lipsyte is a world-class venom spewer and even if his tar­gets (re­al­ity TV, elite food fads, aca­demic dou­bletalk) are some­times easy, the rage which with he tears into them is a thing to be­hold. The Thou­sand Au­tumns of Ja­cob de Zoet by David Mitchell. (Ran­dom House/Scep­tre)

A panoramic novel span­ning two decades at the turn of the 19th cen­tury, set on a Ja­panese is­land where the hero has come to work as a ju­nior clerk with the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany. Fus­ing el­e­ments of a love story, a fi­nan­cial thriller and a mar­itime ad­ven­ture, it’s got ab­duc­tions and poi­son­ings, sa­mu­rai raids and naval bat­tles. But it also has qui­eter mo­ments of med­i­ta­tion on the meet­ing of two civil­i­sa­tions, an en­counter that’s less a clash than a wary two-step. Skippy Dies by Paul Mur­ray (Faber/Hamish Hamil­ton).

Wel­come to Seabrook Col­lege, a Catholic boys high school in Dublin. There’s sex and drugs and high jinks, wimps, bul­lies, queen bees and brains, jaded teach­ers, a ques­tion­able coach and a blovi­at­ing head­mas­ter. The in­escapable cru­elty of young peo­ple is a con­stant and his­tory is ev­ery­where. The the­matic rich­ness of the writ­ing is im­pres­sive, yet the book is also just plain fun and com­pul­sively read­able. Neme­sis by Philip Roth (Houghton Mif­flin Har­court/Jonathan Cape).

Since 2006, Roth has been turn­ing out short, dev­as­tat­ing nov­els ev­ery year. In this one, set in 1944, a “pro­foundly de­cent” 23-year-old play­ground di­rec­tor named Bucky Can­tor looks on in help­less horror as po­lio dev­as­tates his Ne­wark com­mu­nity. Bucky is both the kind of vir­ile man Roth ad­mires and the kind of lessthan-bril­liant good cit­i­zen he scorns; the or­deal the author puts him through is un­nerv­ing and piti­less. So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (HarperCollins).

The hard­work­ing hero has a wife who’s dy­ing of can­cer and a fa­ther in a nurs­ing home; he’s go­ing broke from the bills. It would be hard to cram more mis­ery into a novel, yet this one raises so many is­sues – artis­tic, cul­tural and so­cial – that it sets all the wheels in your head spin­ning. The re­sult is im­prob­a­bly like­able. Pri­vate Life by Jane Smi­ley (Knopf/Faber).

Mar­garet May­field is 27 – an old maid by the Mis­souri stan­dards of 1905 – when she mar­ries Cap­tain An­drew Jack­son Jef­fer­son Early, an as­tronomer 11 years her se­nior and, ac­cord­ing to the gen­eral es­ti­mate (es­pe­cially his own), very much her su­pe­rior in wealth and ge­nius. It takes her many years to recog­nise him for what he is: a fool. A qui­etly ab­sorb­ing and thor­oughly chill­ing por­trait of a bad mar­riage. – Washington Post

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.