Surviving by Allan Massie
Like The Death of Men, one of Allan Massie’s best novels, Surviving is set in contemporary Rome. The main characters, Belinda (the heroine of second novel, The Last Peacock), Kate (an author who specialises in studies of the criminal mind), and Tom Durward (a scriptwriter), attend an English-speaking group of Alcoholics Anonymous. All have pasts to cause some embarrassment or shame. Tom sees no future for himself and still gets nervous ‘come Martini time’. Belinda embarks on a love-affair that cannot last. Kate ventures onto more dangerous ground by inviting her latest case-study, a young Londoner acquitted of a racist murder, to stay with her. There is another murder, but this is not a murder mystery. What matters is the responses of the characters to the catastrophe. The atmosphere of Rome is lovingly evoked. The dialogue, in which the characters reveal themselves or seek to avoid doing so, is sharp and edgy. Allan Massie dissects this group of ex-pats in order to say something about our inability to know, still less to understand, the actions of our fellow human beings, even when relationships are so intense. It is also, therefore, impossible or at least difficult to make informed moral judgements of others. This is an intelligent book that examines human nature with a deft and light touch.
The Milkman in the Night by Andrey Kurkov
Semyon is disturbed. He has woken up in the living room with blood on his shirt, an angry wife and no idea where he was the night before. After waking to find his boots and overcoat damp on several mornings in a row. Semyon realises his excursions are a nightly occurrence. Concerned for his own safety and for the security of his marriage, he asks his friend and business partner Volodka to follow him on his nocturnal wanderings. The next morning, Volodka gives Semyon a full report. He left the apartment a little after 2a.m. and walked several blocks until he encountered a tall blonde, whom he kissed and accompanied to her door. But when he visits the address in the daytime, the bemused Semyon doesn’t recognise the location. And stranger yet, someone has been watching Volodka watching Semyon. As the adventure unfurl, an unemployed sniffer-dog handler makes a dangerous discovery, a single mother provides breast milk for an unusual recipient, and a vengeful cat is on the loose. All in all, there are some very strange goings-on in Kiev.
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian
In 1983, Chinese playwright, critic, fiction writer, and painter Gao Xingjian was diagnosed with lung cancer and faced imminent death.B ut six weeks later, a second examination revealed there was no cancer — he had won “a second reprieve from death.” Faced with a repressive cultural environment and the threat of a spell in a prison farm, Gao fled Beijing and began a journey of 15,000 kilometers into the remote mountains and ancient forests of Sichuan in southwest China. The result of this epic voyage of discovery is Soul Mountain.
Bold, lyrical, and prodigious, Soul Mountain probes the human soul with an uncommon directness and candor and delights in the freedom of the imagination to expand the notion of the individual self.
Saraswati Park by Anjali Joesph
Feted for its electric chaos, the city of Bombay also accommodates pockets of calm. In one such enclave, Mohan, a middle-aged letter writer – the last of a dying profession – sits under a banyan tree in Fort, furnishing missives for village migrants, disenchanted lovers, and when pickings are slim, filling in money order forms. But Mohan’s true passion is collecting second-hand books; he’s particularly attached to novels with marginal annotations. So when the pavement booksellers of Fort are summarily evicted, Mohan’s life starts to lose some of its animating lustre. At this tenuous moment Mohan – and his wife, Lakshmi – are joined in Saraswati Park, a suburban housing colony, by their nephew, Ashish, a diffident, sexually uncertain 19-year-old who has to repeat his final year in college. As Saraswati Park unfolds, the lives of each of the three characters are thrown into sharp relief by the comical frustrations of family life: annoying relatives, unspoken yearnings and unheard grievances. When Lakshmi loses her only brother, she leaves Bombay for a relative’s home to mourn not only the death of a sibling but also the vital force of her marriage. Ashish, meanwhile, embarks on an affair with a much richer boy in his college; it ends abruptly. Not long afterwards, he succumbs to the overtures of his English tutor, Narayan. As Mohan scribbles away in the sort of books he secretly hopes to write one day, he worries about whether his wife will return, what will become of Ashish’s life, and if he himself will ever find his own voice to write from the margins about the centre of which he will never be a part.
A Cool Head by Ian Rankin
“My dad used to say to me, ‘Try to keep a cool head and a warm heart’. At least I think it was my dad. I don’t really remember him.” Gravy worked in the graveyard – hence the name. He was having a normal day until his friend Benjy turned up in a car Gravy didn’t recognise. Benjy had a bullet hole in his chest, but lived just long enough to ask Gravy to hide him and look after his gun. Gravy had looked after things for Benjy before, but never a gun. When Gravy looked in the car he found blood, a balaclava and a bag stuffed with money. Gravy’s not too bright but he wants to help his friend. So Gravy finds himself caught up in the middle of a robbery gone wrong, a woman who witnessed a murder, and some very unpleasant men who will do anything to get back the money Benjy stole…
Random by Craig Robertson
Glasgow is being terrorized by a serial killer the media have nicknamed The Cutter. The murders have left the police baffled. There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason behind the killings; no kind of pattern or motive; an entirely different method of murder each time, and nothing that connects the victims except for the fact that the little fingers of their right hands have been severed. If DS Rachel Narey could only work out the key to the seemingly random murders, how and why the killer selects his victims, she would be well on her way to catching him. But as the police, the press and a threatening figure from Glasgow’s underworld begin to close in on The Cutter, his carefully laid plans threaten to unravel – with horrifying consequences.
Stories All-New Tales Edited by Neil Gaiman and AL Sarrantonio
The best stories pull readers in and keep them turning the pages, eager to discover more—to find the answer to the question: “And then what happened?” The true hallmark of great literature is great imagination, and as Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio prove with this outstanding collection, when it comes to great fiction, all genres are equal.
Stories is a groundbreaking anthology that reinvigorates, expands, and redefines the limits of imaginative fiction and affords some of the best writers in the world—from Peter Straub and Chuck Palahniuk to Roddy Doyle and Diana Wynne Jones, Stewart O’Nan and Joyce Carol Oates to Walter Mosley and Jodi Picoult—the opportunity to work together, defend their craft, and realign misconceptions. Gaiman, a literary magician whose acclaimed work defies easy categorization and transcends all boundaries, and “master anthologist” (Booklist) Sarrantonio personally invited, read, and selected all the stories in this collection, and their standard for this “new literature of the imagination” is high. “We wanted to read stories that used a lightning-flash of magic as a way of showing us something we have already seen a thousand times as if we have never seen it at all.” Joe Hill boldly aligns theme and form in his disturbing tale of a man’s descent into evil in “Devil on the Staircase.” In “Catch and Release,” Lawrence Block tells of a seasoned fisherman with a talent for catching a bite of another sort. Carolyn Parkhurst adds a dark twist to sibling rivalry in “Unwell.” Joanne Harris weaves a tale of ancient gods in modern New York in “Wildfire in Manhattan.” Vengeance is the heart of Richard Adams’s “The Knife.” Jeffery Deaver introduces a dedicated psychologist whose mission in life is to save people in “The Therapist.” A chilling punishment befitting an unspeakable crime is at the dark heart of Neil Gaiman’s novelette “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains.” As it transforms your view of the world, this brilliant and visionary volume—sure to become a classic—will ignite a new appreciation for the limitless realm of exceptional fiction.
Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou (I could not resist this, he is an extradionary author)
All human beings, says an African legend, have an animal double. Some doubles are benign, others wicked. When Kibandi, a boy living in a Congolese village, reaches the age of 11, his father takes him out into the night, and forces him to drink a vile liquid from a jar which has been hidden for years in the earth. This is his initiation. From now on he, and his double, the porcupine, become accomplices in murder. They attack neighbours, fellow villagers, people who simply cross their path, for reasons so slight, it is virtually impossible to establish connection between the killings. Throughout his life Kibandi relies on his double to act out his grizzly compulsions, until one day even the porcupine baulks, and turns instead to literary confession.
Swamplandia by Karen Russell
The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline—think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades—and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamp landia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption