Two very different types of houses in this week’s upcoming books, plus a couple of story collections, and a look at writers and historians. An eclectic mix, to say the least.
The Crichel Boys by Simon Fenwick
In 1945, Eddy Sackville-West, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Eardley Knollys – writers for the New Statesman and a National Trust administrator – purchased Long Crichel House, an old rectory with no electricity and an inadequate water supply. In this improbable place, the last English literary salon began.
Quieter and less formal than the famed London literary salons, Long Crichel became an idiosyncratic experiment in communal living. Sackville-West, Shawe-Taylor and Knollys – later joined by the literary critic Raymond Mortimer – became members of one another’s surrogate families and their companionship became a stimulus for writing, for them and their guests. Long Crichel’s visitors’ book reveals a Who’s Who of the arts in post-war Britain – Nancy Mitford, Benjamin Britten, Laurie Lee, Cyril Connolly, Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, Cecil Beaton, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson – who were attracted by the good food, generous quantities of drink and excellent conversation. For Frances Partridge and James Lees-Milne, two of the twentieth century’s finest diarists, Long Crichel became a second home and their lives became bound up with the house.
Yet there was to be more to the story of the house than what critics variously referred to as a group of ‘hyphenated gentlemen-aesthetes’ and a ‘prose factory’. In later years the house and its inhabitants were to weather the aftershocks of the Crichel Down Affair, the Wolfenden Report and the AIDS crisis. The story of Long Crichel is also part of the development of the National Trust and other conservation movements.
Due April 26
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
In this captivating tale of imagination and ambition, a seemingly disparate array of people come into contact with a time traveller who must resist the pull to change the past and the future. The cast includes a British exile on the West coast of Canada in the early 1900s; the author of a bestselling novel about a fictional pandemic who embarks on a galaxy-spanning book tour during the outbreak of an actual pandemic; a resident of a moon colony almost 300 years in the future; and a lonely girl who films an old-growth forest and experiences a disruption in the recording. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, Emily St. John Mandel’s dazzling story follows these engrossing characters across space and time as their lives ultimately intersect.
Due April 5
Making History by Richard Cohen
There are many stories we can spin about previous ages, but which accounts get told? And by whom? Is there even such a thing as “objective” history? In this lively and thought-provoking book, Richard Cohen reveals how professional historians and other equally significant witnesses, such as the writers of the Bible, novelists, and political propagandists, influence what becomes the accepted record. Cohen argues, for example, that some historians are practitioners of “Bad History” and twist reality to glorify themselves or their country.
Making History investigates the published works and private utterances of our greatest chroniclers to discover the agendas that informed their—and our—views of the world. From the origins of history writing, when such an activity itself seemed revolutionary, through to television and the digital age, Cohen brings captivating figures to vivid light, from Thucydides and Tacitus to Voltaire and Gibbon, Winston Churchill and Henry Louis Gates. Rich in complex truths and surprising anecdotes, the result is a revealing exploration of both the aims and art of history-making, one that will lead us to rethink how we learn about our past and about ourselves.
Due April 19
M: Son of the Century by Antonio Scurati
It is 1919, and the Great War that has ravaged Europe is over. In Italy, the people are exhausted. Tired of the political class. Tired of vague promises, inept moderates, and the agonizing machinations of a democracy that has failed ordinary citizens.
While elite leaders have sat idly by, achieving nothing, one outsider—the director of a small opposition newspaper and a tireless political agitator—is electrifying the masses, promising hope for a demoralized nation hungry for change.
A former socialist leader ousted by his own party, he is a drifter who knows what it is to feel lost. His voice speaks for the misfits and the outcasts; he is a protector of those who are forgotten.
He is Benito Mussolini. And soon Italy—and the world—will be forever remade.
Due April 5
The Trayvon Generation by Elizabeth Alexander
In the midst of civil unrest in the summer of 2020 and following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Elizabeth Alexander-one of the great literary voices of our time-turned a mother’s eye to her sons’ and students’ generation and wrote a celebrated and moving reflection on the challenges facing young Black America. Originally published in the New Yorker, the essay incisively and lovingly observed the experiences, attitudes, and cultural expressions of what she referred to as the Trayvon Generation, who even as children could not be shielded from the brutality that has affected the lives of so many Black people.
The Trayvon Generation expands the viral essay that spoke so resonantly to the persistence of race as an ongoing issue at the center of the American experience. Alexander looks both to our past and our future with profound insight, brilliant analysis, and mighty heart, interweaving her voice with groundbreaking works of art by some of our most extraordinary artists. At this crucial time in American history when we reckon with who we are as a nation and how we move forward, Alexander’s lyrical prose gives us perspective informed by historical understanding, her lifelong devotion to education, and an intimate grasp of the visioning power of art.
Due April 5
The Dolphin House by Audrey Schulman
It is 1965, and Cora, a young, hearing impaired woman, buys a one-way ticket to the island of St. Thomas, where she discovers four dolphins held in captivity as part of an experiment led by the obsessive Dr. Blum. Drawn by a strong connection to the dolphins, Cora falls in with the scientists and discovers her need to protect the animals.
Recognizing Cora’s knack for communication, Blum uses her for what will turn into one of the most fascinating experiments in modern science: an attempt to teach the dolphins human language by creating a home in which she and a dolphin can live together.
As the experiment progresses, Cora forges a remarkable bond with the creatures, until her hard-won knowledge clashes with the male-dominated world of science. As a terrible scandal threatens to engulf the experiment, Cora’s fight to save the dolphins becomes a battle to save herself.
Due April 15
All the Shining People by Kathy Friedman
All the Shining People explores migration, diaspora, and belonging within Toronto’s Jewish South African community, as individuals come to terms with the oppressive hierarchies that separate, and the connections that bind. Seeking a place to belong, the book’s characters — including a life-drawing model searching the streets for her lover; a woman confronting secrets from her past in the new South Africa; and a man grappling with the legacy of his father, a former political prisoner — crave authentic relationships that replicate the lost feeling of home.
With its focus on family, culture, and identity, All the Shining People captures the experiences of immigrants and outsiders with honesty, subtlety, and deep sympathy.
Due April 5
The Broken Places by Frances Peck
Vancouver. A day like any other. Kyle, a successful cosmetic surgeon, is punishing himself with a sprint up a mountain. Charlotte, wife of a tech tycoon, is combing the farm belt for local cheese and a sense of purpose. Back in the city their families go about their business: landscaping, negotiating deals, skipping school. It’s a day like any other—until suddenly it’s not.
When the earthquake hits, the city erupts in chaos and fear. Kyle’s and Charlotte’s families, along with two passersby, are thrown together in an oceanfront mansion. The conflicts that beset these wildly different people expose the fault lines beneath their relationships, as they question everything in an effort to survive and reunite with their loved ones stranded outside the city.
Due April 1
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company, Mandala, is so successful that he is “one of those tech demi-gods with whom we’re all on a first name basis.” Bix is 40, with four kids, restless, desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. It’s 2010. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious”—that allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes. But not everyone.
In spellbinding interlocking narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Intellectually dazzling, The Candy House is also extraordinarily moving, a testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy and redemption. In the world of Egan’s spectacular imagination, there are “counters” who track and exploit desires and there are “eluders,” those who understand the price of taking a bite of the Candy House. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of narrative styles—from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter and a chapter of tweets.
Due April 5
Animal Person by Alexander MacLeod
Startling, suspenseful, deeply humane yet alert to the undertow of our darker instincts, the eight stories in Animal Person illuminate what it means to exist in the perilous space between desire and action, and to have your faith in what you hold true buckle and give way.
A petty argument between two sisters is interrupted by an unexpected visitor. Adjoining motel rooms connect a family on the brink of a new life with a criminal whose legacy will haunt them for years to come. A connoisseur of other people’s secrets is undone by what he finds in a piece of lost luggage. In the wake of a tragic accident, a young man must contend with what is owed to the living and to the dead. And in the O. Henry Award-winning story “Lagomorph,” a man’s relationship with his family’s long-lived pet rabbit opens up to become a profound exploration of how a marriage fractures.
Muscular and tender, beautifully crafted, and alive with an elemental power, these stories explore the struggle for meaning and connection in an age when many of us feel cut off from so much, not least ourselves.
Due April 5