This portrait of despair and endurance amid postwar ruin is nothing less than a miniature masterpiece.

PIGEONS ON THE GRASS

A kaleidoscopic narrative that follows a disparate cast of characters whose lives accidentally intersect during a single day in Munich, Germany, in 1948.

First published in 1951 and now available in an inspired new translation, this deeply sardonic, profoundly compassionate novel takes the reader onto the ruined postwar streets of Munich and inside the minds of the city’s inhabitants, their heads "still confused by hunger and explosions.” What seems at first to be a random parade of characters, each portrayed in alternating sections that seamlessly shift the novel’s third-person point of view—from that of a child to a psychologist to an old Nazi to an American soldier and so on—gradually coalesces to form a flawless, interconnected pattern of private dramas and chance meetings. Stories and lives overlap at an accelerating pace yet each protagonist is clearly defined, just as each is at the mercy of fate. Desperation fills the air. Doctors “queued to sell their blood…the only thing they had to sell.” But there is also, among some, a bewildered nostalgia presented with a garnish of irrepressible ironic wit. “Things were different, under Hitler!” one character hears her father lament. “Things had some gusto then.” The novel reaches its crescendo with the onstage appearance of a famous intellectual, the theme of whose lecture is “the deathless soul of the West.” When he arrives, the author notes, “photographers dropped on one knee like archers”—an image typical of the gems scattered liberally throughout the novel. And what follows is indeed a comical skewering of pomposity. At the critical moment, technology—the hope of the future—fails and great thoughts turn into electronic squawks, leaving an adoring crowd mystified.

This portrait of despair and endurance amid postwar ruin is nothing less than a miniature masterpiece.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2918-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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