The walls of my apartment are fragile enough that I know many details about my neighbors. “Am I creepy or just aware?” is a question that comes up when some personal noise enters the drywall. As long as I don’t aggressively pursue eavesdropping opportunities—for example, standing against the wall with a drinking glass to my ear—I think I can claim my innocence. And anyway, it’s a two-way street; Surely the neighbors also gleaned unsolicited data on my habits. To paraphrase a proverb: What I don’t know of what they or they know that it can’t hurt me!
Below are two novels that took me away from my pestilential urban habitation and into 1) a country house and 2) a rural mansion.
Have a good trip,
Chris lives on the edge of a moor in an old cottage with crumbling plaster and low ceilings that he risks decapitating himself every time he climbs the stairs. He is 45 years old and was “fired” from his job. But he’s content with a modest country life and an empty schedule, and we soon learn why: Chris’ youth was filled with enough drama to fuel a season of reality TV.
One day, an unexpected visitor inquires about Chris’ past – a past marked by adultery, divorce, sibling warfare, artistic triumph, professional despair and more. A real Pandora’s box. Too many verses, in fact; there may be a surplus of intrigue here, but it is supported by an abundance of acute perceptions. The cover of my edition, pictured above, is painfully unrepresentative of the text.
Read if you like: Jane Gardam, bursting through doors in a frenzy of excitement, “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff
Available from: Arrow, or check your library or second-hand bookstore
Mr. Crowe is a man of outrageous fortune. Its grounds include formal gardens, a hedge maze, a croquet lawn, and a perfectly square pond. (How? Why?) For dinner, he eats lobster garnished with gold leaf. (How? Why?) Other occupants of the house include Eustache, butler and consigliere, and Clara, a child with an unspecified disability that makes her unable to speak. During a routine bawdy party, Mr Crowe pulls out a gun and appears to kill a guy on his property – but when the corpse is examined there are no gunshot wounds. And that’s not the only mystery!
This novel, which oscillates between gothic and fantastic, begins at a slow trot and progresses to a gallop. That’s not a polite way of saying the book is boring; only that the first act is meticulous in its preparation for the twists that follow.
Read if you like: David Mitchell, Susanna Clarke, cryptic (or “British-style”) crossword
Available from: tin house
Why not you…
Slip into “Old Masters” if you TO LIKE art/rants and TO HATE sentimentality/paragraph breaks?
Tell the people that you had “CARELESS SOLARIZATION” the next time you get a sunburn? (And steal more sentences from Nabokov while you’re at it.)
Sigh and resign yourself to BURIED AT FULL BLOW with yet another word puzzle? As far as I know, the site does not contain any instructions on how to play, but you will be able to understand it.
Subscribe to Read Like the Wind
Dive Deeper into Books at The New York Times Where review by Molly Young
See previous editions of Read Like the Wind
Friendly reminder: check the books at your local library! Many libraries allow you to reserve copies online. Send your comments on the newsletter to [email protected]