Exploring the art of prose


New books: week of September 10

Here’s a quick look at some of the great books out this week. Happy pub day to all!


Diana Evans, Ordinary People
Liveright/W.W. Norton

From The Guardian: “Ordinary People is much more about the compromises made after the babies have arrived and the butterflies have stopped fluttering. For the two late thirtysomething couples here, existential panic is sparked by dwindling sex lives and the stresses of sharing housework and childcare duties… If Ordinary People is about compromise, it is also about how we live today and, refreshingly, Evans shows this through the prism of black and mixed-race identities, conjuring an urban milieu that is middle-class and non-white… And yet the soap-opera trajectory of Evans’s Ordinary People has a movie quality. It could easily be reimagined for the screen, though the film would not capture the sheer energy and effervescence of Evans’s funny, sad, magnificent prose.”

Read an interview with Evans in The Guardian.
Listen to the book’s playlist on Spotify.


Imogen Hermes Gowar, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

From Kirkus Reviews: “In this rollicking Georgian romp, a courtesan and a merchant make an unlikely pair as they navigate the grand palaces and back alleys of London society. Jonah Hancock, the “merchant son of a merchant’s son,” has made his fortune by being sensible. But when the captain of one of his vessels trades everything for a mermaid specimen, “brown and wizened like an apple forgotten at the bottom of the barrel,” Hancock fears his fortune is lost forever. His luck changes when the mermaid piques the interest of Mrs. Chappell, the elderly madam of London’s “celebrated Temple of Venus.”.. Gowar’s debut is rich in detail, with a plot that unfolds like a luxurious carriage ride through the country. Though the story is set in the 1780s, during the reign of King George III, the novel calls to mind 19th-century masters like Dickens and Eliot, who relished the way character can drive and reverse plot… Behind the window trimmings of Gowar’s epic romance lies an astute novel about class, race, and fate that will delight fans of Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and Sarah Hall’s The Electric Michelangelo. An ambitious debut with enough romance, intrigue, and social climbing to fill a mermaid’s grotto to the brim.”

Read about the cover design at Spine.
Listen to an interview with Gower.


Olivia Laing, Crudo
W.W. Norton

From Kirkus Reviews: “The political and personal chaos of the summer of 2017 as it tumbles through the consciousness of a writer named Kathy. With this brief, breathless experimental novel, Laing (The Lonely City, 2016, etc.) has left the world of literary nonfiction behind and planted an explorer’s flag in an unusual, individual destination somewhere on the continent of fiction. The narrative begins with Kathy’s arrival in England on a plane from New York. She is met by her fiance, who we will eventually learn is also a writer, 29 years older than she. At this early point in the story, there is also another man in her life, but this turns out to be no big deal—that kind of plot is not the focus here, though Kathy will at some point get married and, at some time after that, will actually fall in love… To enjoy this book, you have to stop trying to understand it. If you can, you may well experience a warm sense of recognition at the absurdity and impossibility of trying to carry on a life in these times. Mysterious, bizarre, frustrating, weirdly smart, and pretty cool.”

Read an excerpt from the novel at Frieze.
Read an interview with Laing at the Evening Standard.
Read an essay about Laing up at LitHub.


Wayétu Moore, She Would Be King 
Graywolf Press

From Kirkus Reviews:An ambitious, genre-hopping, continent-spanning novel that uses the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as the backdrop for a magical realist adventure. Following four characters from far-flung corners of the African diaspora, debut novelist Moore tells the story of Liberia’s formation in the mid-19th century. When a Virginia slave named Charlotte dies while trying to protect a fellow slave, her death sets in motion a series of supernatural events that changes the tiny West African nation’s history… Moore is a brisk and skilled storyteller who weaves her protagonists’ disparate stories together with aplomb yet is also able to render her sprawling cast of characters in ways that feel psychologically compelling. In addition, the novel’s various settings—Virginia, Jamaica, and West Africa—are depicted so lushly that readers will find themselves enchanted.”

Read an interview with Moore in Words Without Borders.
Listen to an interview with Moore on the podcast Famous Failures.


Sarah Weinman, The Real Lolita

From Kirkus Reviews: “True crime meets classic American literature. Lolita wasn’t always considered the great work of literature it has become. Journalist Weinman (editor: Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and ’50s, 2015, etc.), who covers the book publishing industry for Publishers Marketplace, describes the struggles Vladimir Nabokov endured trying to find a publisher for his novel about Humbert Humbert’s desire for and abduction of the young Lolita until the notorious Olympia Press published it overseas in 1955. Weinman also recounts the story of journalist Peter Welding’s 1963 article in the men’s magazine Nugget. He argued that the story of 11-year-old Sally Horner’s abduction in 1948 by mechanic Frank La Salle, who claimed for 12 months that she was his daughter, paralleled the Lolita story “much too closely to be coincidental.” Weinman’s book is about her quest to “figure out what [Nabokov] knew about Sally Horner and when he knew it.”.. Ultimately, “Lolita’s narrative…depended more on a real-life crime than Nabokov would ever admit.” A tantalizing, entertaining true-life detective and literary story whose roots were hidden deep in a novel that has perplexed and challenged readers for decades.”

Watch a video with Weinman on C-Span.
Read an article about the book at The Atlantic.