by Kate Atkinson
(Back Bay Books)
Case Histories/ One Good Turn/ When Will There Be Good News?/ Started Early, Took My Dog (The Jackson Brodie Books) To call these mystery or crime fiction is wrong, or at least not quite right. An erstwhile private investigator, Jackson Brodie, is a common thread in all four books, and some other characters also reappear including a thorny female Detective Inspector, and they do have kernels of various mysteries at the heart of them but the crimes are not the thing. It's the wonderful tangle of behaviour and plot that Atkinson presents to us and then proceeds to unpick with such cleverness and such manic fun, that we willingly go on the ride. And it is always a rollercoaster of a ride, filled with twists and populated by characters who live and breathe and act completely irrationally human. Darkly humorous and filled with mischief, these are literary family sagas. I always feel as if I am submerging myself in other people's lives when I read these books-- inhabiting their skins. I genuinely care what becomes of them. I am transported. I am entertained. I am moved. I am in awe of Atkinson's somewhat dizzying tangential pathways, which far from subtracting from the story, make it richer. These can be read alone but they make for a satisfying feast if read in the order they are listed above.
The White Cat and the Monk
written by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Sydney Smith
The White Cat and the Monk is Jo Ellen Bogart's retelling of the poem Pangur Bán, an Irish Benedictine monk's ode to his feline companion in the ninth century. A medieval fable with a graphic novel feel, the opening panels wordlessly depict the cat Pangur's return from a night-time adventure to the abbey quarters he shares with the monk. There they contentedly immerse themselves in their respective work, one stalking a mouse, the other poring over books. Ostensibly their pursuits are different - the hunt for sustenance and the hunt for meaning -but one suspects they are one and the same for the monk. Both require study and patience to succeed and man and cat while away the night deep in companionable concentration. Like the text, Sydney Smith's masterful ink-and-watercolour illustrations are spartan but rich, with economical use of colour and light which focuses the reader on what matters: the golden light that shines from beneath the monk's door, the illuminated manuscripts, the dawn. In a statement which echoes across the centuries, the monk declares: "Far more than any fame, I enjoy the peaceful pursuit of knowledge." In and of itself, some light in the darkness, and a meditative lesson which will engage children and adults alike.
Sydney Smith will be visiting Lexicon Books on March 26, 2017!
by Zadie Smith
I always look forward to Zadie Smith's work, ever since being awed by her first novel, White Teeth. She's got a massive style, that encompasses fairly straightforward narratives as well as gentle (and fierce) experimentation. Swing Time is her latest novel, describing the relationships of the unnamed narrator with her best/worst friend Tracey, her activist mother, and pop star employer. I found it to be a good adjunct to another favourite book (series), Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, for its honest take on a complicated female friendship. This is a finely tuned, empathetic treatment of friendship, privilege, race, love, and identity, and it is told well through Smith's rollicking, clear lines.