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Posts Tagged ‘Sadie Jones’

fallout“The summer days were long and exquisitely balanced, as if happiness were so strong it could not leave them, but perhaps sharpened by the unexamined sense of something hidden; the more permanent wounds of their longer lives waiting, undiscovered.”

That’s my favorite sentence from one of my new favorite novels, Sadie Jones’ Fallout (HarperCollins, digital galley), a romantic drama played out against the setting of theatrical London in the heady 1970s. Protagonist Luke, an intense young playwright, shows an early flair for the dramatic when as a schoolboy he helps his mother escape from a mental hospital for a day-long excursion. Later, a chance encounter with young producer Paul and his girlfriend Leigh leads to the trio starting a fringe theatre company above a pub and sharing rooms, giving their all for art. Leigh hides her feelings for Luke, a serial womanizer until he meets actress Nina. The willowy beauty, bullied by her failed actress mother and married to a bisexual West End producer, becomes a star as a torture victim in a successful play. Luke can’t resist the role of white knight, but betrayal lurks in the wings as he struggles to remain true to his best self. Jones is a pro at evoking youthful love, friendship and ambition, as well as the inevitable fallout of choices made in the heat of passion. Her backstage tale deserves the limelight.

words If Edward St. Aubyn ever decides he wants to be anything but a celebrated writer, perhaps he should consider becoming an acupuncturist. In his breezy satire Lost for Words (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, digital galley), he expertly needles the posturings and pretensions of the literary prize balloon. Pop! Pop! Pop! Of course, he skewered class and culture in his celebrated Melrose family novels (At Last. Mother’s Milk), but he was much more subtle and a lot less cheerful.  This is farce, and he’s having fun.

First, readers meet the assorted, and mostly unqualified, judges of the Elysian Prize for Literature (St. Aubyn’s stand-in for Britain’s prestigious Man Booker), headed by a publicity-seeking MP. Most have read only a handful of the 200 of books submitted for the prize, but that doesn’t stop them from coming up with favorites, forming alliances and trading votes. As the long list is winnowed down to the shortlist, the writers vie for attention. They include a Serious Novelist for whom writing is torture, in love with a lovely and promiscuous writer sleeping with both her married editor and a French semiotics specialist. She misses out on the Elysian when a publishing mix-up results in her publisher inadvertently submitting the manuscript of a cookbook, which then becomes a metafictional darling. Meanwhile, the cookbook author’s nephew, a spoiled Indian prince, is plotting revenge because his self-published opus, The Mulberry Elephant, is overlooked. The judges remain divided over the merits of an historical novel about a folksy young Shakespeare and a profanity-laced screed, wot u starin at, from Scotland. St. Aubyn include spot-on parodies of excerpts from these books; I’ll never be able to read Hilary Mantel or Irvine Welsh again without grinning.

The judges are all asked what they’re looking for in a winner. A media personality is all about “relevance,” while an academic professes an interest in “good writing.” When pressed to be more specific, she stubbornly replies, “especially good writing.” I nominate Lost for Words.

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In last summer’s best-seller, A Discovery of Witches, author and historian Deborah Harkness introduced readers to Diana Bishop, an American scholar with witch DNA, and Matthew Clairmont, an Oxford geneticist and centuries-old vampire. The two came together in the search for an ancient alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, that may explain the origins of the supernatural world and its witches, vampires and daemons. After pages and pages, Diana and Matthew were left calling on her untapped powers as a timespinner to go back to Elizabethean England.

I liked the first book for the most part, with its often heady mix of history, science, romance and fantasy. But  I soon tired of supernatural yoga classes and squabbles, and I resented the cliffhanger ending, which tempered my enthusiasm for a sequel that would also be the middle book of the All Souls trilogy. Really, another 600 pages and then wait for the third book a year from now?

Yes, yes, whatever. Shadow of Night (Viking Penguin, digital galley via NetGalley) may be the fastest 600 pages I’ve read since Harry Potter. Harkness’ dynamic duo interact with historical figures, a number of whom have their own supernatural secrets (Christopher Marlowe is a jealous daemon), and journey to London, France and Prague in search of a tutor for Diana and the lost manuscript. They are threatened by witch-hunters, meet up with Matthew’s powerful father, and make true friends and more enemies while trying not to trip up the past and thus change the present. Oh, they also get married, even though witches and vampires aren’t supposed to. As for what the future holds, we’ll just have to wait.

Happily, since paranormal is the new normal, there are other books of mystery and magic to enjoy. Carsten Stroud’s Niceville (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley via NetGalley) is all over the place and over the top with its energetic story of a small Southern town beset by trigger-happy thieves, mysterious random disappearances, a bloodsoaked past and Something Evil from beyond the grave. Detective Nick Kavanaugh isn’t sure what’s going on, even though his wife Kate is from one of Niceville’s founding families, but he dutifully charges forth into the murk and mayhem. I followed and tried not to overthink, or even think.

Sadie Jones’ The Uninvited Guests (HarperCollins, e-book borrowed from library) is altogther different, a wicked delight and/or delightfully wicked. The Edwardian country-house setting and class-conscious characters reminded me a bit of Dodie Smith, P.G. Wodehouse and Muriel Spark, but Jones’ pen is more poisonous. Emerald Torrington’s 20th birthday dinner party is disrupted by news of a train derailment and the arrival of a group of survivors. All are from the third-class carriage with the exception of one peculiar gentleman, who quickly insinuates himself with the family and their few invited guests, claiming old acquaintanceship with Emerald’s mother. She is appalled by his presence but also curiously afraid, and the mystery deepens as he orchestrates a parlor game that sets the players at odds with one another and can only end in tears. The story won’t be everyone’s cup of tea — too strange and bitter — but the shenanigans of Emerald’s young sister Smudge provide needed levity, and really, all’s well that ends well.  At least for some people.

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