A diverse yet consistent collection, mind-bending and provocative in a host of styles and milieus.

PRAYER FOR THE LIVING

A career-spanning story collection from the Booker Prize–winning Nigerian writer that navigates the blurry line between dream and reality.

Okri’s stories are so concerned with myth and folklore, and so comfortable in the style of those genres, that his best ones sometimes feel as if written on parchment or chiseled in granite. In the eerie, allegorical title story, a man searching for his loved ones in a town devastated by soldiers finds a kind of collective solidarity with the corpses he discovers: “All the faces are familiar. Death has made them all my kin.” “A Sinister Perfection” features a dollhouse that seems to have the power to make (usually bad) things happen in reality. The narrator of “Dreaming of Byzantium” finds himself in Istanbul, uncertain of how he got there or of the woman he shares his hotel bed with; his journey becomes a study in how “unreality makes reality.” Okri's stories propose a kind of existential balancing act: If we err when we place too much faith in reality, we can also too easily succumb to delusion. “The Lie,” for instance, is a fable about a king who sends his minions out to discover universal truths only to face an uncomfortable one about himself: “Your power is unreal. It is made of air. It consists of what we have conferred on you.” The stories don't always strive for timelessness: Three tales concern the African terrorist group Boko Haram. Nor is the mysticism always somber: “Alternative Realities Are True” is a dimension-warping detective story worthy of Philip K. Dick, and “Don Ki-Otah and the Ambiguity of Reading” is a Don Quixote satire whose metafictional gamesmanship evokes Borges and Achebe. Okri often plays with form, as in two stories written in a flash-fiction style he calls “stoku," a portmanteau of story and haiku. But throughout, Okri skillfully embeds abstract ideas in concrete, engaging storytelling.

A diverse yet consistent collection, mind-bending and provocative in a host of styles and milieus.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61775-863-8

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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