Misfits, mammals, and a couple of Booker Prize potentials in this week’s list of books we’ve enjoyed reading recently.
Fuzz by Mary Roach
What’s to be done about a jaywalking moose? A bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? Three hundred years ago, animals that broke the law would be assigned legal representation and put on trial. These days, as New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.
Roach tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and “danger tree” faller blasters. Intrepid as ever, she travels from leopard-terrorized hamlets in the Indian Himalaya to St. Peter’s Square in the early hours before the pope arrives for Easter Mass, when vandal gulls swoop in to destroy the elaborate floral display. She taste-tests rat bait, learns how to install a vulture effigy, and gets mugged by a macaque.
April in Spain by John Banville
On the idyllic coast of San Sebastian, Spain, Dublin pathologist Quirke is struggling to relax, despite the beaches, cafés and the company of his disarmingly lovely wife. When he glimpses a familiar face in the twilight at Las Acadas bar, it’s hard at first to tell whether his imagination is just running away with him.
Because this young woman can’t be April Latimer. She was murdered by her brother, years ago—the conclusion to an unspeakable scandal that shook one of Ireland’s foremost political dynasties.
Unable to ignore his instincts, Quirke makes a call back home to Ireland and soon Detective St. John Strafford is dispatched to Spain. But he’s not the only one en route. A relentless hit man is on the hunt for his latest prey, and the next victim might be Quirke himself.
Antwerp: The Glory Years by Michael Pye
Antwerp was sensational like nineteenth-century Paris or twentieth-century New York, somewhere anything could happen or at least be believed: killer bankers, easy kisses, a market in secrets and every kind of heresy. For half the sixteenth century, it was the place for breaking rules – religious, sexual, intellectual.
In Antwerp, things changed. One man cornered all the money in the city and reinvented ideas of what money meant. Another gave Antwerp a new shape purely out of his own ambition. Jews fleeing the Portuguese Inquisition needed Antwerp for their escape, thanks to the remarkable woman at the head of the grandest banking family in Europe.
But when Antwerp rebelled with the Dutch against the Spanish and lost, all that glory was buried and its true history rewritten. The city that unsettled so many now became conformist. Mutinous troops burned the city records. Michael Pye sets out to rediscover the city that was lost and bring its wilder days to life using every kind of clue: novels, paintings, songs, schoolbooks, letters and the archives of Venice, London and the Medici. He builds a picture of a city haunted by fire, plague and violence, but learning how to be a power in its own right in the world after feudalism.
Cuba: An American History by Ada Ferrer
Spanning more than five centuries, Cuba: An American History provides us with a front-row seat as we witness the evolution of the modern nation, with its dramatic record of conquest and colonization, of slavery and freedom, of independence and revolutions made and unmade.
Along the way, Ferrer explores the sometimes surprising, often troubled intimacy between the two countries, documenting not only the influence of the United States on Cuba but also the many ways the island has been a recurring presence in US affairs. This, then, is a story that will give American readers unexpected insights into the history of their own nation and, in so doing, help them imagine a new relationship with Cuba.
Filled with rousing stories and characters, and drawing on more than thirty years of research in Cuba, Spain, and the United States—as well as the author’s own extensive travel to the island over the same period—this is a stunning and monumental account like no other.
Misfits by Michaela Coel
When invited to deliver the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Michaela Coel touched a lot of people with her striking revelations about race, class and gender, but the person most significantly impacted was Coel herself. Building on her celebrated speech, Misfits immerses readers in her vision through powerful allegory and deeply personal anecdotes—from her coming of age in London public housing to her discovery of theater and her love for storytelling. And she tells of her reckoning with trauma and metamorphosis into a champion for herself, inclusivity, and radical honesty.
With inspiring insight and wit, Coel lays bare her journey so far and invites us to reflect on our own. By embracing our differences, she says, we can transform our lives. An artist to her core, Coel holds up the path of the creative as an emblem of our need to regard one another with care and respect—and transparency.
As You Were by Elaine Feeney
Sinead Hynes is a tough, driven, funny young property developer with a terrifying secret. No-one knows it: not her fellow patients in a failing hospital, and certainly not her family. She has confided only in Google and a shiny magpie. But she can’t go on like this, tirelessly trying to outstrip her past and in mortal fear of her future. Across the ward, Margaret Rose is running her chaotic family from her rose-gold Nokia. In the neighbouring bed, Jane, rarely but piercingly lucid, is searching for a decent bra and for someone to listen. And Sinead needs them both.
As You Were is about intimate histories, institutional failures, the kindness of strangers, and the darkly present past of modern Ireland; about women’s stories and women’s struggles; about seizing the moment to be free. Wildly funny, desperately tragic, inventive and irrepressible, As You Were introduces a brilliant voice in Irish fiction with a book that is absolutely of our times.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.
At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?
Jane of Battery Park by Jaye Viner
Jane is a Los Angeles nurse who grew up in a Christian cult that puts celebrities on trial for their sins. Daniel is a has-been actor whose career ended when the cult family members nearly killed him for flirting with her. Eight years after a romantic meet-cute in Battery Park, both search for someone to fill the gap they imagine the other could’ve filled if given the chance. Jane compulsively goes on dates with every self-professed expert in art, music, and food hoping they will teach her the nuances of the culture she couldn’t access in her youth. Daniel looks for a girlfriend who will accept the disabilities left from the cult attack. A loving woman will prove to Daniel’s blockbuster star brother, Steve, that he’s capable of a supporting role in Steve’s upcoming movie and relaunching Daniel’s career.
When a chance encounter unexpectedly reunites them, Jane and Daniel not only see another chance at the love they lost, but an opportunity to create the lives they’ve always wanted. The only question is whether their families will let them.
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
A Passage North begins with a message from out of the blue: a telephone call informing Krishan that his grandmother’s caretaker, Rani, has died under unexpected circumstances—found at the bottom of a well in her village in the north, her neck broken by the fall. The news arrives on the heels of an email from Anjum, an impassioned yet aloof activist Krishnan fell in love with years before while living in Delhi, stirring old memories and desires from a world he left behind.
As Krishan makes the long journey by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province for Rani’s funeral, so begins an astonishing passage into the innermost reaches of a country. At once a powerful meditation on absence and longing, as well as an unsparing account of the legacy of Sri Lanka’s thirty-year civil war, this procession to a pyre “at the end of the earth” lays bare the imprints of an island’s past, the unattainable distances between who we are and what we seek.
The Promise by Damon Galgut
Haunted by an unmet promise, the Swart family loses touch after the death of their matriarch. Adrift, the lives of the three siblings move separately through the uncharted waters of South Africa; Anton, the golden boy who bitterly resents his life’s unfulfilled potential; Astrid, whose beauty is her power; and the youngest, Amor, whose life is shaped by a nebulous feeling of guilt.
Reunited by four funerals over three decades, the dwindling family reflects the atmosphere of its country—one of resentment, renewal, and, ultimately, hope. The Promise is an epic drama that unfurls against the unrelenting march of national history, sure to please current fans and attract many new ones.