Category: Reviews

Signs for Lost Children Book Cover Signs for Lost Children
Sarah Moss
In Store Now!

One of the best parts of working at Ben McNally’s is being able to introduce customers to books and authors they would not necessarily choose for themselves. I discovered Sarah Moss last year and ordered one of her books from the UK, which was - at the time - the only place to find them. Then one of our bookstore’s favourite publishers, Europa Editions, came along and decided to issue a North American edition of what I consider to be Moss’s best work of fiction, Signs for Lost Children.

 

The novel follows the lives of a newly married couple living in England in the 1880s: Dr. Ally Moberley Cavendish and her husband, architect Tom Cavendish. While Tom leaves his home on a professional trip to Japan, Ally starts her position as a doctor in a women’s mental institution, The Truro Asylum. Both characters narrate their own journey as they delve into the worlds of their careers and, inevitably, their own minds. Both struggle with the loneliness these worlds carry, giving them the freedom to explore themselves, with dramatic results.

 

The most compelling part of Signs for Lost Children is Moss’s writing. It is rhythmic and gentle, despite dealing with difficult and serious subject matter.

 

At the asylum, Ally attempts to combat the prevailing stereotype of female physicians as incompetent and emotional, despite reservations about her own abilities and mental health. Pressure from her mother - a paradoxical figure who goes to great lengths to help the poorest and most vulnerable members of society while condemning her daughter’s choice to waste her life by doing the same - pushes Ally further into the darkness of her mind. Among the patients of the asylum, Ally finds sadness and beauty, butchered by Victorian England’s strict social norms. Her struggle is exacerbated as she tries to balance her desire to assist these women with her new role as a wife with the traditional domestic duties she feels she is meant to master. This internal sparring match soon proves to be Ally’s most traumatic obstacle.

 

In Japan, Tom is introduced to a new way of life, one where folklore and centuries of tradition seem out of place in a country that is progressing at a rapid pace in terms of modern technologies and fresh ideas. He, too, feels a sense of isolation, away from his new bride and everything that is familiar to him at home. His travels take him to the most rural areas of Japan, which are starkly juxtaposed to the bright and bustling cities. His attempts to cling to an anchor, the memory of Ally at home in England, are undermined when he questions how close their connection really is and whether it will survive the distance.

 

The most compelling part of Signs for Lost Children is Moss’s writing. It is rhythmic and gentle, despite dealing with difficult and serious subject matter. Her words flow with a grace and an elegance that is unusual for contemporary writers, but she manages to keep the pace of her novel at a steady climb, building tension and easily sweeping the reader into the world of her characters. In Japan, Tom remembers his home country, and “wants to see Britain from behind Makoto’s eyes, to see the strange and unnatural things to which he himself and everyone he knows is forever blind. The bleakness of the moors, where heather ruffles like water under the wind, Farmhouse of grey stone below grey-green hills. The pulsating verdure of a hedgerow in spring, bluebells scribbled purple in the shade of budding trees. The ancient forts and earthworks that form a chain across the uplands of the north.” Reading passages like these is such a treat that I became annoyed when something in my own life interrupted my enjoyment of the book and looked for any excuse to turn my attention back to its pages.

 

To give readers fair warning, this novel is the final chapter of a trilogy involving the life of Ally Moberley, her family, and the lasting effect of both on subsequent generations. An article in the The Guardian newspaper, written at the time of the book’s UK release in 2015, claimed that reading Moss’s final novel of the Moberley trilogy without reading the first two was detrimental to the understanding of Ally’s backstory and would take away from the experience of reading the book. I could not disagree more. I read the book without even knowing it had two preceding stories and found that the mystery surrounding Ally’s life before her marriage to Tom added to the novel’s foggy Victorian atmosphere, where the only information we have as readers is what the characters tell us. I’ve always thought that the best books leave readers with more questions than answers. Reading Ally’s story in reverse was like breaking through a wall in an old home, with each book revealing hidden parts of the past that added to my understanding of the house as a whole.

 

Signs for Lost Children will take you on a journey that stretches from Falmouth to Kyoto, with two compelling, imperfect characters as your guides.

 

(Note: The two previous books in this trilogy by Sarah Moss are Night Waking and Bodies of Light, both available from Granta Books in the UK, and can be ordered in store.)

 

Comparative titles: Anne Enright, The Green Road; Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent; Lucy Wood, Weathering

Mozart's Starling Book Cover Mozart's Starling
Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Little, Brown and Company
In Store Now!

In her prelude to Mozart’s Starling, Lyanda Lynn Haupt writes, “Common, invasive, aggressive, reviled. Starlings don’t just lie beneath our notice, the sentiment runs, they are actually undeserving of our notice.”

If you love birds but hate starlings, you are not alone. From the day a handful were introduced from England to New York’s Central Park about 130 years ago, until today when millions of starlings have spread over North America, they have become nearly universally detested.

And yet, if you look closely at a starling, at one individual bird, you will see how beautiful it is. Its feathers shine iridescent in the sun, purple, green, glossy black. And if you’re patient and lucky, you may hear it mimic another bird species, or a car siren, or even you.

Starlings are true mimics, meaning they can learn to make the sounds they hear around them, which brings us to how Mozart ended up with one as a pet. The story goes that one day he was walking down the street in Vienna when he heard a familiar melody, a melody from a song he had not yet made public. Intrigued, he followed the sound to a shop and a caged starling who was singing his own musical phrase. He bought the bird and took it home.

When Haupt, a nature writer, was looking for a topic for a new book, she remembered this story and wondered if it was true. Several of her other books are about human interaction with birds, so she thought the Mozart story might be a place to start. Indeed it was.

Haupt then decided that if she was going to begin to understand the relationship Mozart had with his bird, she was going to have to live with a starling, too.

This book will forever change the way you look at starlings.

This book will change forever the way you look at starlings. The stories Haupt tells about her bird, Carmen, are charming, hilarious, poignant. Haupt describes her family’s life with its starling as an endless challenge but one worth the effort and considerable mess.

She extrapolates from her own experiences to what it may have been like for Mozart. She researches the period of his life when he lived with his starling, and goes to Vienna to see for herself the house the Mozarts were living in. We learn about Mozart’s relationships with his father, siblings, wife, and children. We hear about his extraordinary genius and his strangely-shaped ears. Most of us know something about this very famous composer (and some of you, no doubt, know a great deal), but everything in this particular story has a bird at the core of it. That’s a different way of looking at a life.

Haupt also tries to solve the puzzle of how Mozart’s starling knew that little piece of music that hadn’t yet been performed, something that has kept scholars busy for ages.

I found the Mozart chapters interesting and I was moved to dig up some old CDs to listen to, but I loved the stories of Haupt’s own bird.

Her family raises Carmen from a chick. She’s helpless and small when they bring her home but it doesn’t take long before she’s an integral part of the family.

The first sound Carmen decides to mimic is that of the wine stopper coming out of a bottle. As soon as Haupt starts moving a wine glass from the cupboard, Carmen makes the sound. She also learns the coffee grinder. And I won’t ruin anything for you by describing Carmen’s relationship with the family’s cat. Carmen is a riot.

The deeper beauty of the book, though, comes when Haupt writes about the intersection of art and nature, and how we as creative beings can understand ourselves better through our relationships with the wild. She asks us to listen to “the song just beneath our typical hearing, the murmuration that calls the tiniest neurons of our brains into flight….to paint, draw, dance, compose…to open the windows…to be rained upon. To listen with changed ears and sing back what we hear.”

Himself Book Cover Himself
Jess Kidd
Simon & Schuster
In Store Now!

I remember reading somewhere that the difference between a mystery book and a piece of literature is the resolution: in the former we find out the answers to the internal question, whereas in the latter we are never given such an explanation, and are left to extrapolate for ourselves what the answers could be. We don’t do much differentiation at the store, especially in terms of fiction. It was only August of last year that we began keeping our science-fiction/fantasy novels separate from the general fiction alcove. And, while we’ve always had a separate place for mystery books, that place will include thrillers and horror stories, which aren’t quite the same thing.

So, when we received our copies of this beautiful book this morning, I had to think about how to classify it. On the surface of things I guess it should be in the mystery section. After all, it’s the story of Mahoney, who travels to the small town of Mulderrig at the behest of a note left with him upon the doorstep of an orphanage in Dublin some 20 years previous. It reveals to him his real name, and his mother’s, and ends: “For your information she (his mother) was the curse of the town, so they took her from you. They all lie, so watch yourself, and know that your mammy loved you.”

This, then, is the RACHE scrawled in blood that sets Sherlock on his first hunt, i.e. the beginning of a mystery investigation. And Mahoney is different from Holmes in that where the great detective had only the powers of logic Mahoney has nervous visitations from ghosts, which he tries his best to ignore. Both protagonists are enigmatic and magnetic, and both Arthur Conan Doyle and Jess Kidd know how to write a memorable charm into their characters.

So, why do I hesitate, pondering where it is I should file Himself?

Jess Kidd has that rare ability to tell a story with the type of confidence of which seasoned writers will be jealous.

Is it that Mahoney refuses to be bound by the conventions in which he seems to be situated? He is far too aloof to be considered an investigator, after all, perfectly happy to allow the pair of old ladies he teams up with to do most of the digging and prying. He’s immensely cool like that. But, that’s not quite it...

It is also true that Jess Kidd has that rare ability to tell a story with the type of confidence of which seasoned writers will be jealous. There is a literary bent to her pen and a glint for detail in her eye.  Thus, while the plot is thick with the intrigue one would expect from a mystery novel, it is here a foundation from which Kidd can reach for something higher —or something deeper.  But, there’s more than that, too.

I think it’s because Jess Kidd doesn’t just reach; she grabs hold firmly. She understands how to detail the idiosyncracy of a lonely maid in small Mulderrig so that it resonates. She knows how to explore the ties that bind the community in a fashion that bespeaks how secrets of a larger scale are kept and hidden; and how those more mundane can still matter profusely.

Most of all, Himself is going to be kept in the fiction section because the resolution of its plot doesn’t begin to answer the questions the book poses. Most of these questions are left to the reader

to answer. Simple ones like: why is a book about a man trying to solve what happened to his mother entitled Himself? Or: if the dead can help you solve your issues, why would you ignore them?

Stranger in the Woods Book Cover Stranger in the Woods
Michael Finkel
Biography
March 7, 2017

Before he was apprehended Christopher Knight had lived by himself for more than a quarter of a century.

Finally undone by a combination of top-secret technological advances and the tenacity of a Maine game warden, Knight was caught in the act of stealing food from one of his favourite spots, unceremoniously cuffed, and searched.

Eventually he was questioned, and that’s when things began to get bizarre.  One mystery had finally been resolved, but another one was just about to surface.

For years the residents, and especially the part-time residents, of that particular neck of the Maine woods had been bothered and/or unnerved by the disappearance of items from their homes, and by break-ins of a somewhat peculiar nature; things of considerable  value were left untouched while food,  batteries, and flashlights were never overlooked. Books went, too, and candy.

The arrest of Christopher Knight finally put flesh on the elusive bones of what had become known as the hermit. What remained was the question of how he had managed to survive 27 years in the forest without human contact, and perhaps even more puzzling, why had he done so?

Forthcoming he was not. Author Michael Finkel, fascinated by the story, arrived from Montana unannounced to visit him in prison, and displaying remarkable patience and persistence, extracted enough of his story to fashion this book.

The reader is left with a lot of inescapable and potentially uncomfortable questions...

The state had to decide what to do with him; the hermit had to  reconcile himself to living in this fractious and cacaphonic world of ours. Neither decision was easily reached, or universally satisfactory. In so many ways, this book will divide opinion as readily as opinion was divided in Maine after the capture and identification of the hermit.

The reader is left with a lot of inescapable and potentially uncomfortable questions, and this seemingly insignificant and very local story will resonate long after the final page has been turned.

Transit Book Cover Transit
Rachel Cusk
Fiction
HarperCollins Canada
in store now

The nameless and unemotional first-person narrator of Rachel Cusk’s acclaimed novel Outline, returns in her new book. Outline was a bloodless record of conversations the narrator had experienced, always less a participant than a reflecting and recording instrument.

Reading it was unsettling. The conversations were, on the surface, ordinary, but freighted with consequence. The narrator, ever attentive, remained elusive, visible only by how others addressed her, assessed her, or by what they expected of her.

It was a literary conjuring, brilliantly devised and executed, immaculately investing fiction with the accoutrements and feel of memoir, often leaving the reader suspended somewhere above solid ground.

I had no idea that the story would continue.

If Outline was an account of going away, then Transit is one of coming back, not always a comfortable proposition.

The format is the same, a series of conversations. Again important observations get the same weight as pleasantries; again significance is easy to miss.

Astonishing things happen to completely ordinary people. Life goes on.

Transit is as unsettling and jarring as its predecessor, and just as impossible to put down.

This time the matter of living with other people is at the heart of the narrative. This time, though, the narrator begins to take tangible shape. Amid the usual flat reportage, her own concerns arise. She has regrets. She has relationships.

She has a name!

Both of these impressive books are about how we talk to each other, and how we listen. You wonder, reading these books, if anyone really pays attention, if everyone only ever hears what they want to hear.

Transit is as unsettling and jarring as its predecessor, and just as impossible to put down. The development of the narrator, however, and the inescapable hope that there is more to come makes the wait for the next instalment  deliciously excruciating.

 

 

Born a Crime Book Cover Born a Crime
Trevor Noah
Memoir

This is a superb book.

Before becoming the host of The Daily Show last year Trevor Noah was a seriously hard-working stand-up comedian. He once spoke about his habit of doing shows in both London and New York on the same weekend. This tireless approach to his craft is undoubtedly responsible for his ability to tell a story. That his anecdotes are rich and rewarding and hilarious, that his insights into human nature are penetrating, comes as no surprise in the context.

But, it’s my experience that a book of anecdotes, no matter how well told, or how funny, will only ever be remembered for the better jokes and asides. With Born a Crime, on the other hand, there’s a gestalt that separates it from others of its kind. To a great extent this comes from Noah’s experience being ostracised under the apartheid regime in South Africa. As the title suggests, Noah’s very birth was considered an infraction of the law. Sexual relations between people of different races were punishable by five years in prison at that time, and Trevor was thus walking evidence in any proceeding the state might take against his parents. Racial distinctions were bureaucratically kept, vigilantly policed, and violently maintained. But this says nothing about how these distinctions were embodied and normalized in society, or how it felt to be labelled a certain way, and thus limited. It takes a personal narrative to begin to understand the difficulty involved therein.

So, while Trevor’s mother was designated black and his father designated white Trevor was labelled ‘colored’ on his birth certificate, a distinct racial group. This nomenclature ruled his life. The questions of where he was allowed to live and with whom (i.e. not, legally speaking, his parents), what schools he was allowed to attend, and a multitude of others, were legal questions, not social or financial ones.

With Born a Crime, on the other hand, there’s a gestalt that separates the book from others of its kind.

The criminality of Trevor’s existence meant that he made for an unusual presence in Johannesburg, in the townships around the city, and in each school he attended (and there were quite a few of those). Too, it made for an unusual and heartrending family dynamic. A sad ritual was undergone for any family outing to the park. Noah’s father, on the few times he accompanied his son, found it prudent to walk on the opposite side of the street, so as not to be recognised as the boy’s father. His mother, who raised him, would chance holding his hand at times, only to make him feel “like a bag of weed,” as she would drop him at any sign of the police. Mind, in many ways Trevor’s mother is the hero of this book. She learned to type at a time when even secretarial work was legally barred to black people. And she raised her child neither in ignorance nor in fear of the regime, but in tacit disobedience, as if implying that she would not be reduced to the level that the government was trying to reduce her to, nor would she allow her son to be.

But, the unusual figure that was and is Trevor Noah was thus provided the outsider’s view. There was a distance between him and each of those around him. And this perspective not only informed his comedy for the better, it informed his compassion and his ability to identify with others despite striving for so long to find a stable identity of his own.

While it is never explicitly stated, it is my belief that the gestalt of this book amounts to this: to some extent, at least, Trevor is a synecdoche of a country perennially coming to terms with its past. His presence on a stage in front of an audience bothers and embarrasses some people, his existence demanding they confront what was until all too recently not only a crime, but a social taboo, a perversity. But, his popularity (the DVD sales of his first stand-up show easily broke all previous sales records) suggests that the population of South Africa is indeed coming to terms with the legacy of apartheid, if only slowly and sometimes tumultuously.

This book, then, is an extension of that notion, though it may be so only subconsciously. It is in turns hilarious and heartrending, but it amounts to something so very powerful.

And I have to say this: it seems a little cruel that after overcoming the odds against him to earn a platform from which to (in some small way) help a country reconcile its difficult relationship with race Noah’s success in America (e.g. his promotion to star of The Daily Show) seems to suggest he will have to do the very same thing for the next four years. It is one of few things that give me hope that our cousins to the south haven’t completely lost their way.

2135313Trevor Noah is a comedian from South Africa.

The Lesser Bohemians Book Cover The Lesser Bohemians
Eimear McBride
Fiction
In Store Now!

This book is, in its simplest form, a transgressive love story.

Similar in style, but lighter in scope, to McBride’s first novel (A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing), the reader shares the thoughts of a vibrant young woman (18) after she’s left her Irish homeland to attend drama school in the big city (London).

The protagonist, a curious character, intent on expanding her selfhood and her social sphere, meets an established man whose troubled past fractures their every encounter. Together, we share her sexual awakening (and subsequent descent into a maddening love affair).

 “Fright I. He holds to. The make of his lip, turning into my own, turn until I kiss back. I think he is smiling but means it the same. Kisses to bit breaths and touch of his tongue making fast me, does he notice?”

This book explores deeply complex and human questions, such as the sustainability of passion, the residual effects of trauma, and the oft-cited rigidities of sexual identification—submissive/dominant; erotic/pathological. By virtue of reading McBride’s novel, the reader is directly implicated in moral questions of a sexual nature. I experienced this book as sexy, but also very confusing.

That said, we are all bound by our sexual histories, which impact our daily scripts in ways that so often go unnoticed—rarely are we summoned to interrogate our relations of desire. This, I think, is the genius of McBride’s writing: she does not allow her readers a pass at passivity, but through a unique method of storytelling she invites and entices you in, and then proceeds to unsettle the boundaries of your sense-making.

By virtue of reading McBride’s novel, the reader is directly implicated in moral questions of a sexual nature.

 “I’ve been naked, embarrassed, touched and kissed and brought the whole way like any woman might. So after that what is it to say            When I was little someone used to and now I don’t think I can any more. Then the past sits forward and the cold comes pouring in. He looks down at me What did you say?”

As these passages demonstrate, this book won’t be for everyone—stream of consciousness can be complicated that way—but I think fans of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing will find McBride’s narrative voice gains fluidity in this book. The pace is balanced, witty, well-versed; and with rhyming sequences so bouncy and original I found myself completely absorbed.

In sum: This is a fairy tale love story for the cynical and sexualized.

eimearmcbrideEimear McBride was born in 1976 and grew up in Ireland. Her debut novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, was published in 2013 and catapulted the author to international recognition, earning her numerous prize nominations and wins. The novel won the 2013 Goldsmiths Prize, was shortlisted for the Folio Prize and won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014. McBride currently lives in Norwich with her family. The Lesser Bohemians is her second novel. The author lives in Norwich, UK.

Nutshell Book Cover Nutshell
Ian McEwan
Fiction
In Store Now!

I imagine that when Ian McEwan sits down to write a new novel, he says to himself, “What corner of human morality should I examine this time?” Then he creates a couple of characters, everyday people we might meet at a dinner party or in the school playground, sets them in a situation, and proceeds to eviscerate them. He’s a master at this and every line counts; every sentence brings us closer to understanding who these people are and what they’re up against.

As I’ve come to expect from Ian McEwan, Nutshell delivers one little punch after another, page after page.

In his new book, Nutshell, McEwan has chosen a foetus as his narrator. If you have ever wondered what a foetus is thinking, here is your answer. It is clever, it is craving knowledge and experience, love and, above all, freedom. This particular foetus is horrified by what is happening in the lives of its parents. As it riffs on that and on its perceived state of the world as learned through podcasts and radio shows its mother listens to, it comes to understand where it’s headed.

I won’t say a word about the characters or plot because, as I’ve said, every sentence counts in McEwan, and I don’t want to give anything away. Telling you even the sex of the foetus, will detract from your experience of a sensuous bit of writing.

As I’ve come to expect from Ian McEwan, Nutshell delivers one little punch after another, page after page. It is a witty, running commentary of a novel, one of his finest.

ian mcewan author photoIan McEwan is the bestselling author of fifteen previous books, including the novels Sweet Tooth; Solar, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize; On Chesil Beach; Saturday;Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both short-listed for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award; as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets.

The Trees Book Cover The Trees
Ali Shaw
Fiction
In Store Now!

In a world not unlike our own, oil sands, fracking, and a depleting ozone layer indicate a constant assault on the natural gifts that the human race takes for granted; gifts that people care about less than their next Facebook post and perfectly Instagrammable cup of coffee. What would happen if this world decided to fight back?

This is the world of Ali Shaw’s new novel, The Trees, where – overnight – the people of Britain find themselves under attack by Mother Nature and her elements that once provided shelter and sustenance. The trees show no mercy, shooting up through homes and their residents with wild abandon, taking over the landscape and cities without regard for the people inhabiting the smallest cottage or the grandest castle. Roads are replaced with forests, animals are free to roam and hunt in their extended woods, and people suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the food chain.

The story follows the journeys of Adrien (a rather hapless and hopeless man who feels he has been abandoned by his wife), and nature-lover Hannah and her technology-obsessed teenaged son Seb. This quirky group of characters all have their own motive for setting out among the ruins of civilization, but they are drawn together by the common goal of surviving in a world that makes most man versus nature themes look like a walk in the park. Along the way, they encounter Hiroko, a young girl from Japan whose unique survivalist talents appeal to the group, but whose stark independence and refusal to get close to anyone makes the others wary of her true nature.

The process is violent, unrelenting, and deadly; the writing is stunning.

I admit that post-apocalyptic novels are not often found on my reading list but, within the first few pages of Shaw’s writing, I was hooked. He describes the initial attack, where “The forest burst full-grown out of the earth, in booming uppercuts of trunks and bludgeoning branches. It rammed through roads and houses alike, shattering bricks and exploding glass. It sounded like a thousand trains derailing at once, squealings and jarrings and bucklings all lost beneath the thunderclaps of broken concrete and the cacophony of a billion hissing leaves. Up surged the tree trunks, up in a storm of foliage and lashing twigs that spread and spread and then, at a great height, stopped.” The process is violent, unrelenting, and deadly; the writing is stunning.

This is not Shaw’s first voyage into literary fantasy: his previous book The Girl With the Glass Feet follows Ida, who finds herself slowly turning into glass from the feet up, and The Man Who Rained, in which Elsa discovers a town where the weather can come to life. His themes are reminiscent of fairy tales, but with richer language and deliciously complex and compelling characters. The Trees challenges the reader to look at the state of humanity, of our natural world, and how the two are in constant battle with each other. We are asked to question our own response to a world of chaos, where humans are suddenly no longer in charge and where animals and organisms and dark forests are only the beginning of the troubles to come. Would our true nature be revealed, when our man-made laws are replaced with those that existed thousands of years ago? How many of us would quickly forget what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, when there’s no one left to tell us the difference?

The Trees is one of the best books I’ve read this year and is now one of my favourites. I devoured every page and on several occasions I flipped back to sections that were particularly powerful and haunting. I find myself walking through Riverdale Park a little faster now, and with a new sense of trepidation.

“And out of sight, on the highest of branches and in the most secret of hollows, stranger creatures went about their business.”

Comparative titles: Cormac McCarthy, The Road; Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

ali-shawAli Shaw grew up in Dorset and graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Literature. He has since worked as a bookseller and at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. His first novel, The Girl With Glass Feet, won the Desmond Elliot Prize, was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. He is also the author of The Man Who Rained.

A Gentleman in Moscow Book Cover A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles
Fiction
Viking Penguin
In Store Now!

In June of 1922 Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov appeared before the Emergency Committee of The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs.

...if he ever sets foot outside the Hotel he will be shot.

The committee was less than sympathetic to the Count, disapproved of his lifestyle, and would have preferred that he be “taken from this chamber and put against the wall.” Instead, based on a long and influential poem of his that had appeared in 1905, in the wake of the failed revolt, the Count is ordered back to the Metropole Hotel in Moscow, where he has been living since his return from Paris in 1918, and informed that if he ever sets foot outside the Hotel he will be shot.

This wonderful novel spans the more than thirty years that Count Rostov spends in the hotel.  The world continues to turn outside the confines of the Metropole, and with subtle elegance the march of history is incorporated into the narrative.  The Count is sheltered, perhaps, but not immune.

I’ll leave to you the delight of discovering how Amor Towles has created such an enjoyable and memorable novel from these beginnings. The Count is a very special character, but his surprisingly large supporting cast is equally splendid, each one an inspired creation, each exquisitely developed.

As he did in his first book, The Rules of Civility, Amor Towles has created a novel that celebrates grace and goodwill. Count Rostov is a man of wit, sophistication, and sympathy, qualities generally in short supply in his own time (and sadly, in our own.) His indomitable resilience and amiable adaptability is an example for us all.

Rare is the novel that leaves you exhilarated at the end. A Gentleman in Moscow is satisfying and uplifting. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

144127Amor Towles was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. After working more than twenty years as an investment professional, Towles now writes full time. He is also the author of the novella Eve in Hollywood, available as an e-book. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.