Rebecca Scherm’s Unbecoming is a heist tale, a bildungsroman, a love story, and above all, a compelling psychological study of a likeable young woman with strong anti-social tendencies. As the novel progresses, Grace, the protagonist, not only behaves in “unbecoming” ways, but “unbecomes” the promising girl she once was. She grows in independence, strength and daring, but it is impossible to approve of her.
The Last Wife of Atilla the Hun manages the perfect balance between the epic setting from which it takes its cue, and the intimate and domestic world that Gudrun finds herself in. Gudrun is cut off from the battlefield from which she only hears news, and unlike Sigrid, doesn’t go on a quest for dragon’s gold.
For all its seriousness, The Snail’s Castle has a light, assured tone that makes for compulsive reading. At turns amusing and disturbing, it is among the most literary of literary works, with a deep intelligence that expects its readers also to be intelligent. That is a rare compliment that should be savoured.
The unique writing style and sympathetic characters found in Swing State create an intriguing read. Fournier draws potent scenes depicting their struggles – returning from war, finding acceptance and approval, and asserting their own independence. Although each character has a unique story to tell, Fournier deftly interweaves and connects their lives until they come together in the explosive conclusion.
For those who study fiction, form, or genre, Like Family should be required reading. It begins as a tribute but morphs into a eulogy for love itself, a stark realization that passionate and all-consuming love is far beyond the narrator, maybe beyond modernity. The story invites such an epic statement, but it also keeps us in check.
For a novel written in 1947, half-heartedly revised in 1957 and finally published in France in 1978, A Regicide is a disconcertingly contemporary read. Moreover, it is possible to place your finger on exactly why this is so: Robbe-Grillet’s frequent descriptions of nature, of plants and insects and coastline, as fragile and precarious: that’s what strikes home. The island kingdom where an assassination (imagined? actual?) is played out is battened by tempests, beset by drought. Seasons are awry.
The four novels making up the “Neapolitan” quartet follow the entwined lives of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo Carracci, from elementary school in the 1950s to Lila’s disappearance at age sixty. The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth and final volume, presents Elena and Lila in mid-life, both back in their crime-ridden impoverished neighbourhood. Their friendship, never harmonious, continues to go up and down until a tragedy and a sad aftermath change things.
After You has many strengths, including an important theme and a compassionate, capable central character who follows her instincts in the face of unsolicited advice. Well structured, with much dramatic tension, After You can stand alone, independent of Me Before You. Significant information from the earlier novel is worked smoothly into the narrative in a way that maximizes suspense.
It is refreshing to encounter characters who make their livings outside the professional and academic spheres. MacDonald combines her knowledge of exotic settings and cultures with insights into the human heart to create outstanding stories.
The theme of surrendering self is just one topic explored through thoughtful dialogue and prose. The characterisation of a sensitive topic demonstrates how it is possible that horrendous things happen, and even people living under the same roof don’t realise what’s going on. We see first-hand why victims sometimes can’t speak out until many years after the event.