Each story reveals a centrifugal writer with a brilliant command of words and no fear of a plot’s getting away from him.

COWBOY GRAVES

THREE NOVELLAS

A posthumous triad of novellas by Bolaño, postmodernist par excellence, late of Chile, Mexico, and Spain.

“It’s…a novel (like all novels, really) that doesn’t begin in the novel, in the book-object that contains it, understand? Its first pages are in some other book, or in a back alley where a crime has been committed.” So says a mysterious caller to a young intellectual named Diodorus Pilon in the first novella, French Comedy of Horrors, summoning him to Paris to join the Clandestine Surrealist Group—a group so shadowy that no one quite knows what it is. Will he answer the call? Only Bolaño knows. The title piece is similarly far-flung, with our narrator starting off in Chile, moving north to Mexico, land of those cowboy graves, and then returning to Chile just in time, the chronology suggests, to get caught up in Pinochet’s fascist coup of 1973. As ever, the story contains a classic improbability: The narrator, just 15, is an accidental reader of the poet Nicanor Parra and goes off in quest of him while getting ready to leave Chile: “I didn’t know where he lived, of course….From the start, I suspected that it would be hard to get there and just as hard to get back.” The science fictional, Jesuit-twitting story within the story is vintage Bolaño while Fatherland, the third novella, is especially fragmentary and inconclusive. Set in Concepción, along the central Chilean coast, it’s a whirl of volcanoes ever about to erupt, of a Nazi fighter that appears in the skies overhead, and of the steady devolution of humankind: “We’ve progressed from the perfect execution to the concentration camp and the atomic bomb.” In an afterword, the Spanish poet Juan Antonio Masoliver Ródenas notes that the first and third stories were written in the 1990s and the second in 2002-2003, concurrently with books such as Distant Star and The Savage Detectives and perhaps even part of them at one time, which makes them no less enigmatic.

Each story reveals a centrifugal writer with a brilliant command of words and no fear of a plot’s getting away from him.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2288-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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