Storytelling imbues Southern life. The great Mississippi writer Eudora Welty (1909-2001) highlighted this when a Paris Review interviewer asked her in 1972 if she was an eavesdropper: “I’m not as much as I used to be, or would like to be, because I don’t hear as well as I used to, or there’s too much other noise everywhere. But I’ve heard some wonderful remarks. Well, in the South, everybody stays busy talking all the time—they’re not sorry for you to overhear their tales. I don’t feel in helping myself I ever did anything underhanded. I was helping out.”
He was a man of a hundred names, including "Don phlegm," "Giorgio Vasari," "William Crocodile," "Poverino," "Baron de Cutendre," "Louis Alexandre Bombet" and "Anastasius Serpière."
But he is forever remembered for just one: Stendhal.
In 1811, the German writer Heinrich von Kleist shot the woman he loved and then himself in a murder-suicide pact.
His beloved Henriette Vogel was dying of uterine cancer and Von Kleist, though just 34, had long questioned the purpose of life. In his final letter, to his sister, he wrote: “The truth is, nothing on earth can help me. And now good-bye: may Heaven send you a death even half equal to mine in joy and unutterable bliss: that is the most heart-felt and profoundest wish that I can think of for you.”
Kobo Abe (1924-1973) was a giant of post-war Japanese literature, whose novels and plays captured the alienation and loss of identity his society wrestled with after their defeat. Abe’s personal history sensitized him to these dynamics. While he was young, his father took the family to Manchuria, in northern China, where he practiced medicine. Japan soon invaded and then brutally occupied the province, developing Abe’s lifelong ambivalence with his nation.
After the war, he explored the profound sense of confusion and loss in Japan’s growing urban centers through deeply imagined absurdist works that are often described as Kafakaesque. His major works include:
Top Ten Land welcomes William Boyd while the Scottish writer is firing on all cylinders. His 16th novel, Trio, is receiving glowing reviews for its tale of three people leading secret lives – a movie producer, a novelist and an actress – who are making a disaster-plagued British film in 1968, a year when Britain was still swingin' as the world was coming apart.
Try writing a paragraph without using an “e.” I’ll wait. It’s hard, right? Now wrap your mind around the difficulty of fashioning a full book without it! The French writer Georges Perec accomplished that feat in his 1969 novel, A Void. The brilliantly experimental writer followed that up with a novella, The Exeter Ghost (1972) in which every word has “e” as its vowel.
Iain Pears – whose appreciation of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels appears at right - is an English novelist who often draws on his expertise as an art historian to craft literary mysteries. His first novel, The Raphael Affair (1991), introduced Jonathan Argyll, a detective art historian who works with the Italian Art Squad. The six other novels in the series include The Titian Committee (1992), The Bernini Bust (1993) and The Immaculate Deception (2000).
“Would you be willing to ask Siri how to assassinate Trump?”
That’s the opening question in David Leavitt’s daring new comedy of manners, Shelter in Place, which revolves around a group of New Yorkers who have gathered in a stately Connecticut home just four days after the 2016 election.
That question itself is not what it seems – rather than an invitation to murder (Siri can’t do that, yet) it is a test of the group’s moral compass and its willingness to speak freely – and neither is the novel.
John Banville’s new novel, Snow, begins with this magnificent grabber: “‘I’m a priest, for Christ’s sake – how can this be happening to me?’”
We learn straight away what happened to him on a snowy Irish night in 1957 – a mutilative murder most foul.
The urgent question, of course, is whodunit? Banville moves toward the answer in a suspenseful, beautifully written story that invokes many of the classic elements of Agatha Christie-era mysteries.
Edinburgh’s mandatory retirement age for police forced Inspector John Rebus to retire in 2007, as Ian Rankin detailed in Exit Music. That was six books ago. A Song for the Dark Times, the 23rd installment of the internationally acclaimed Rebus series, finds the cantankerous crime stopper with a bum heart and lungs, a broken down Saab and two mysteries to solve.