The year is winding down, and here the dark evenings are getting longer (though it’s not particularly cold yet) — it’s reading time! There are plenty of books I’m looking forward to this month, including a couple from authors in my Pantheon — Louise Erdrich and László Krasznahorkai — and Europa is bring more Jane Gardam, who should be in my Pantheon (and likely will be there some day when I update it). Amidst the others that excite me, I’ve put a fantasy novel up. I used to love fantasy but haven’t read much in years. So many people have told me that Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive (massive as it is) is exceptional and well worth the investment. Book three is out in a few weeks.
Which ones have I missed that you’re excited about?
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Old Rendering Plant
by Wolfgang Hilbig
translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole
Two Lines Press
Here is the blurb from Two Lines Press:
What falsehoods do we believe as children? And what happens when we realize they are lies — possibly heinous ones? In Old Rendering Plant Wolfgang Hilbig turns his febrile, hypnotic prose to the intersection of identity, language, and history’s darkest chapters, immersing readers in the odors and oozings of a butchery that has for years dumped biological waste into a river. It starts when a young boy becomes obsessed with an empty and decayed coal plant, coming to believe that it is tied to mysterious disappearances throughout the countryside. But as a young man, with the building now turned into an abattoir processing dead animals, he revisits this place and his memories of it, realizing just how much he has missed. Plumbing memory’s mysteries while evoking historic horrors, Hilbig gives us a gothic testament for the silenced and the speechless. With a tone indebted to Poe and a syntax descended from Joyce, this suggestive, menacing tale refracts the lost innocence of youth through the heavy burdens of maturity.
by John Banville
Here is the blurb from Knopf:
Isabel Archer is a young American woman, swept off to Europe in the late nineteenth century by an aunt who hopes to round out the impetuous but naïve girl’s experience of the world. When Isabel comes into a large, unexpected inheritance, she is finagled into a marriage with the charming, penniless, and—as Isabel finds out too late—cruel and deceitful Gilbert Osmond, whose connection to a certain Madame Merle is suspiciously intimate. On a trip to England to visit her cousin Ralph Touchett on his deathbed, Isabel is offered a chance to free herself from the marriage, but nonetheless chooses to return to Italy. Banville follows James’s story line to this point, but Mrs. Osmond is thoroughly Banville’s own: the narrative inventiveness; the lyrical precision and surprise of his language; the layers of emotional and psychological intensity; the subtle, dark humor. And when Isabel arrives in Italy — along with someone else! — the novel takes off in directions that James himself would be thrilled to follow.
by Jean Echenoz
translated from the French by Sam Taylor
The New Press
Here is the blurb from The New Press:
Jean Echenoz’s sly and playful novels have won critical and popular acclaim in France, where he has won the Prix Goncourt, as well as in the United States, where he has been profiled by the New Yorker and called the“most distinctive voice of his generation” by the Washington Post. With his wonderfully droll and intriguing new work, Special Envoy, Echenoz turns his hand to the espionage novel. When published in France, it stormed the bestseller lists.
Special Envoy begins with an old general in France’s intelligence agency asking his trusted lieutenant Paul Objat for ideas about a person he wants for a particular job: someone to aid the destabilization of Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea. Objat has someone in mind: Constance, an attractive, restless, bored woman in a failing marriage to a washed-up pop musician. Soon after, she is abducted by Objat’s cronies and spirited away into the lower depths of France’s intelligence bureaucracy where she is trained for her mission.
What follows is a bizarre tale of kidnappings, murders and mutilations, bad pop songs and great sex, populated by a cast of oddballs and losers. Set in Paris, rural central France, and Pyongyang, Special Envoy is joyously strange and unpredictable, full of twists and ironic digressions—and, in the words of L’Express, “a pure gem, a delight.”
Future Home of the Living God
by Louise Erdrich
Here is the blurb from Harper:
Louise Erdrich, the New York Times bestselling, National Book Award-winning author of LaRose and The Round House, paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event.
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.
There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.
A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.
by Jane Gardam
Here is the blurb from Europa Editions:
The story of a motherless girl named Faith and her family and close friends, all of whom are determined to see her live a happy life.
Faith’s mother died in childbirth; her overworked father cannot raise his child alone; and her unconventional grandmother refuses to acknowledge the child whose birth took away the daughter she loved. And so a motley crew of family and friends converges to see that Faith is brought up correctly. The concerned parties include Faith’s uncle, who runs a commune in northern England; the Tibetan refugees who have moved in with him; and the splendidly bickering paternal grandparents. What ensues is a brilliant comedy of manners set equally amidst high society and low.
Faith Fox is a story that explores the wonder of the human heart in all its thunderous eccentricity. Gardam has mastered the essence of age and youth and above all noncomformity. Her memorable characters are sure to delight.
by Anna Kavan
Here is the blurb from Penguin Classics:
In a frozen, apocalyptic landscape, destruction abounds: great walls of ice overrun the world and secretive governments vie for control. Against this surreal, yet eerily familiar broken world, an unnamed narrator embarks on a hallucinatory quest for a strange and elusive “glass-girl” with silver hair. He crosses icy seas and frozen plains, searching ruined towns and ransacked rooms, all to free her from the grips of a tyrant known only as the warden and save her before the ice closes all around. A novel unlike any other, Ice is at once a dystopian adventure shattering the conventions of science fiction, a prescient warning of climate change and totalitarianism, a feminist exploration of violence and trauma, a Kafkaesque literary dreamscape, and a brilliant allegory for its author’s struggles with addiction — all crystallized in prose glittering as the piling snow.
Kavan’s 1967 novel has built a reputation as an extraordinary and innovative work of literature, garnering acclaim from China Miéville, Patti Smith, J. G. Ballard, Anaïs Nin, and Doris Lessing, among others. With echoes of dystopian classics like Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and J. G. Ballard’s High Rise, Ice is a necessary and unforgettable addition to the canon of science fiction classics.
Oathbringer: Book Three of the Stormlight Archive
by Brandon Sanderson
Here is the blurb from Tor Books:
In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Timesbestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.
Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.
Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together?and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past?even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.
Mokusei!: A Love Story
by Cees Nooteboom
translated from the Dutch by Andrienne Dixon
Here is the blurb from Seagull Books:
Two men talk in Tokyo. One, a Belgian, is a diplomat. The other, Dutch, is a photographer. What, they wonder, is the real face of Japan? How can they get beyond the European idea of the nation and its people — with its exoticism — and see Japan as it truly is? The Belgian has an idea: he helps the photographer find a model to shoot in front of Mount Fuji as the “typical Japanese.” The plan works better than either had imagined — in fact, it works too well: the photographer falls in love, neglects his friend and his career, and, feeling out of place and disillusioned in Holland, returns to Japan as often as possible over the next five years. A reunion is planned: the three will meet again at Mount Fuji. Time, it seems, has stood still . . . except the woman has a secret, and plans of her own.
This moving novel of obsession and difference is the latest masterwork from one of the greatest European writers working today, redolent with the power of desire and alive to the limits of our understanding of others.
by Jóanes Nielsen
translated from the Faroese by Kerri A. Pierce
Here is the blurb from Open Letter:
One of the first Faroese books to be translated into English, The Brahmadells is an epic novel chronicling the lives of a particular family — nicknamed “the Brahmadells” — against the larger history of the Faroe Islands, from the time of Danish rule, through its national awakening, to its independence.
Filled with colorful characters and various family intrigues, the novel incorporates a number of genres and styles as it shifts from individual stories to larger world issues. There are historical documents, including nineteenth-century medical journals, documents detailing the lives of real historical figures, digressions about religion, a measles outbreak, and many other travails, large and small.
Referred to as the “Faroese Moby-Dick” for its scope, importance, and literary approach, The Brahmadells is a playful, engrossing look at life in an island nation whose rich history is relatively unknown to most English readers.
Balcony in the Forest
by Julien Gracq
translated from the French by Richard Howard
Here is the NYRB Classics blurb:
It is the fall of 1939, and Lieutenant Grange and his men are living in a chalet above a concrete bunker deep in the Ardennes forest, charged with defending the French-Belgian border against the Germans in a war that seems unreal, distant, and unlikely. Far more immediate is the earthy life of the forest itself and the deep sensations of childhood it recalls from Grange’s memory. Ostensibly readying for war, Grange instead spends his time observing the change in seasons, falling in love with a young free-spirited widow, and contemplating the absurd stasis of his present condition. This novel of long takes, dream states, and little dramatic action culminates abruptly in battle, an event that is as much the real incursion of the German army into France as it is the sudden intrusion of death into the suspended disbelief of life. Richard Howard’s skilled translation captures the fairy-tale otherworldliness and existential dread of this unusual, elusive novel (first published in 1958) by the supreme prose stylist Julien Gracq.
The World Goes On
by László Krasznahorkai
translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes, Ottilie Mulzet, and John Batki
Here is the blurb from New Directions:
In The World Goes On, a narrator first speaks directly, then tells eleven unforgettable stories, and then bids farewell (“for here I would leave this earth and these stars, because I would take nothing with me”). As László Krasznahoraki himself explains: “Each text is about drawing our attention away from this world, speeding our body toward annihilation, and immersing ourselves in a current of thought or a narrative…” A Hungarian interpreter obsessed with waterfalls, at the edge of the abyss in his own mind, wanders the chaotic streets of Shanghai. A traveler, reeling from the sights and sounds of Varanasi, encounters a giant of a man on the banks of the Ganges ranting on the nature of a single drop of water. A child laborer in a Portuguese marble quarry wanders off from work one day into a surreal realm utterly alien from his daily toils. The World Goes On is another amazing masterpiece by the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. “The excitement of his writing,” Adam Thirwell proclaimed in the New York Review of Books, “is that he has come up with this own original forms — there is nothing else like it in contemporary literature.”
by Rachel Ingalls
Here is the blurb from New Directions:
In the quiet suburbs, while Dorothy is doing chores and waiting for her husband to come home from work, not in the least anticipating romance, she hears a strange radio announcement about a monster who has just escaped from the Institute for Oceanographic Research… Reviewers have compared Rachel Ingalls’s Mrs. Caliban to King Kong, Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, the films of David Lynch, Beauty and the Beast, The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Richard Yates’s domestic realism, B-horror movies, and the fairy tales of Angela Carter?how such a short novel could contain all of these disparate elements is a testament to its startling and singular charm.