Fahrenheit 451


Ray Bradbury - 2011
    Dashing from the basement to the stacks to track down half-remembered quotations and typing at furious speed, in that short time he produced the first draft of an extraordinary novel. Serialised, widely published, adapted for film, theatre and even opera, the book, as Bradbury wrote, ‘seems to have a life that goes on recreating itself’.Fahrenheit 451 envisages a dystopian future in which the job of firemen is to seek out books, and burn them. Montag is a fireman who enjoys his job, wearing ‘the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.’ He agrees with his boss who tells him how much happier people are now, watching endless television at high volume, than when they read books and thought for themselves. Then one night, Montag meets a young girl with ‘unconventional’ habits – walking at night, collecting butterflies and tasting rain. Something about the girl forces Montag to look at his world differently: children in cars running down pedestrians for fun, his wife overdosing regularly on sleeping pills, and his neighbour proud that her children would ‘just as soon kick as kiss me’. Montag realises that ‘we have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing.’ Such subversive thoughts will lead Montag to rebel – and rebellion has terrible consequences.Bradbury’s bleak admonitory vision is not of a tyrannical government, but of people who did this to themselves. His fictional dystopia began with a wave of political correctness that censored and silenced uncomfortable opinions; then interactive, reality TV swamped critical thought; and finally, each individual’s ‘right’ to the pursuit of happiness removed any sense of responsibility and even emotion itself. Over 60 years on, the fears raised by Fahrenheit 451 have not lessened. Yet at the book’s heart is a profound optimism: books are symbolic of humankind’s capacity for reflection and understanding, which can save us from our equally powerful capacity for self-destruction. This edition includes a new introduction by science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock and a series of astonishingly life-like illustrations by Sam Weber, which perfectly capture the novel’s haunting atmosphere.

Altered States


Anita Brookner - 1996
    Alan Sherwood, a quiet English solicitor, remembers back to a time when he stepped briefly out of character to indulge in a liaison with Sarah Miller, an intriguing but heartless distant relative--only to find himself in a series of absurd situations that culminated in his marriage to Sarah's clinging, childlike friend Angela.With her compassionate portrait of a man who has paid a terrible price for his folly, Anita Brookner gives us a novel that it at once harrowing and humane. In the traditions of Henry James and Thomas Mann, Altered States is a beautifully rendered tale of loneliness, guilt, and erotic obsession.

Drylands


Thea Astley - 1999
    Little has changed in her 50 years, except for the coming of cable TV. Loneliness is almost a religion, and still everyone knows your business. But the town is being outmanoeuvred by drought and begins to empty, pouring itself out like water into sand. Small minds shrink even smaller in the vastness of the land. One man is forced out by council rates and bigotry; another sells his property, risking the lot to build his dream. And all of them are shadowed by violence of some sort—these people whose only victory over the town is in leaving it.

Binstead's Safari


Rachel Ingalls - 1988
    Binstead’s Safari unfolds the fractured fairy tale of the rebirth of a drab, insecure woman as a fiercely alive, fearless beauty. “Life was too short to waste time trying to find excuses for not doing the things you really wanted to do,” Millie realizes, helping herself to love and joy. The husband is astonished—everyone adores the new Millie. She can’t put a foot wrong, and as they move deeper into Africa in search of lion myths for his book, “excitement and pleasure carried her upwards as on a tide.” Mysteries abound, but in the hands of Rachel Ingalls, the ultimate master of the curveball, Millie’s resurrection seems perfectly natural: caterpillar to butterfly.“Only now had she found her life”—and also her destiny, which may, this being Ingalls, take the form of a Lion God.

All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories


William Maxwell - 1995
    From the American Book Award-winning author of Ancestors and Time Will Darken comes a masterful collection of stories, spanning more than 50 years--a tour of a world that engages readers entirely, and whose characters command the deepest loyalty and tenderness.

The Wanderer


Knut Hamsun - 1905
    His quest is continually frustrated, not least by his susceptibility to the wives and daughters of successive employers.In Under the Autumn Star he joins forces first with Grindhusen, a man blessed with the faith that "something will turn up"; later with Lars Falkenberg, whose dubious talents include the tuning of pianos. Knut and Lars end up as workmen on the estate of a certain Captain Falkenberg (no relation), with whose wife each falls in love. In due course, Knut is laid off and, in futile pursuit of the woman with whom by now he is helplessly infatuated, eventually finds himself sucked back into the city he once fled."A wanderer plays on muted strings," explains Knut, now six years older, "when he reaches the age of two score years and ten." Among this sequel's qualities is the poignancy with which it conveys that sense of aging.Both novels show Hamsun at the height of his powers: lyrical and passionate, ironic yet deeply humane, master of one of the most original prose styles in modern literature, brilliantly translated here by Oliver and Gunnvor Stallybrass.

Go to the Widow-Maker


James Jones - 1967
    But success does not mean he feels like a man. On vacation in Jamaica with his mistress, an ice queen who considers him her personal trophy, his thoughts are back in New York City, with a beautiful young girl he met a few days before he left town. As the stress bears down on him, the brilliant playwright goes nearly to pieces before he finds his salvation under water. On his first deep-sea dive, Grant falls in love with the haunting beauty of the reef. He returns as soon as he can, staying longer and swimming deeper until all his problems seep away. But a man can’t breathe underwater forever—and his obsession will drive him to take increasing risks that will change his life forever.

To Heaven by Water


Justin Cartwright - 2009
    When Nancy was alive, he had secrets that he kept from her. Now he has a secret that he must keep from his children, Ed and Lucy, namely that he is in some ways happier now than he was when their mother was alive. To Heaven by Water is a touching and hilarious portrait of the Cross family, trying in their own fashion to come to terms with their loss. David knows that his children are perplexed by his increasingly compulsive behaviour while Ed's marriage to the lovely Rosalie, a former ballet dancer, is suffering strain, and Lucy is being stalked by her ex-boyfriend. Both children worry that their father will soon find a new partner. Over all three of them hangs the memory of Nancy. The book opens as David is taking time out with his brother in the Kalahari Desert, re-living his tumultuous and uplifting memories of Rome where he worked on a film with Richard Burton. Back home in London, Ed is trying to balance his affair with a young woman in his office with his real love for his wife, who is unable to conceive the child she longs for. And Lucy, who has just been voted No. 6 in the Evening News section devoted to beautiful and brainy women, is a young woman in pursuit of her real self. To Heaven by Water is a wonderful story of friendship, forgiveness and of love that comes from unexpected directions; it is an exploration of what we might hope for from this life and. in particular. the possibility of transcendence. Into the beautifully observed and subtly composed texture of this tale of middle-class London life, Justin Cartwright weaves sudden shocks that tear it apart, moments of sex and revenge that appear from a cloudless sky to take the reader's breath away.

Towards Another Summer


Janet Frame - 2007
    It is suffused with beauty and tenderness and shot through with self-deprecating humour and frailty.

The Alley Cat


Yves Beauchemin - 1982
    One onlooker, the powerful and sinister Egon Ratablavasky, comes to haunt his ambitions and dreams, lurking behind his every opportunity, success, and failure. Finally, obsessed by a need to free himself, Florent discovers how to fight back.From the Trade Paperback edition.

Miss MacIntosh, My Darling


Marguerite Young - 1965
    It is a picaresque, psychological novel--a novel of the road, a journey or voyage of the human spirit in its search for reality in a world of illusion and nightmare. It is an epic of what might be called the Arabian Nights of American life. Marguerite Young's method is poetic, imagistic, incantatory; in prose of extraordinary richness she tests the nature of her characters--and the nature of reality. Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is written with oceanic music moving at many levels of consciousness and perception; but the toughly fibred realistic fabric is always there, in the happenings of the narrative, the humor, the precise details, the definitions of the characters. Miss MacIntosh herself, who hails from What Cheer, Iowa, and seems downright and normal, with an incorruptible sense of humor and the desire to put an end to phantoms; Catherine Cartwheel, the opium lady, a recluse who is shut away in a great New England seaside house and entertains imaginary guests; Mr. Spitzer, the lawyer, musical composer and mystical space traveler, a gentle man, wholly unsure of himself and of reality; his twin brother Peron, the gay and raffish gambler and virtuoso in the world of sports; Cousin Hannah, the horsewoman, balloonist, mountain-climber and militant Boston feminist, known as Al Hamad through all the seraglios of the East; Titus Bonebreaker of Chicago, wild man of God dreaming of a heavenly crown; the very efficient Christian hangman, Mr. Weed of the Wabash River Valley; a featherweight champion who meets his equal in a graveyard--these are a few who live with phantasmagorical vividness in the pages of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. The novel touches on many aspects of life--drug addiction, woman's suffrage, murder, suicide, pregnancy both real and imaginary, schizophrenia, many strange loves, the psychology of gambling, perfectionism; but the profusion of this huge book serves always to intensify the force of the central question: "What shall we do when, fleeing from illusion, we are confronted by illusion?" What is real, what is dream? Is the calendar of the human heart the same as that kept by the earth? Is it possible that one may live a secondary life of which one does not know? In every aspect, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling stands by itself--in the lyric beauty of its prose, its imaginative vitality and cumulative emotional power. It is the work of a writer of genius.

Local Anaesthetic


Günter Grass - 1969
    Under local anesthesia, the patient projects onto the screen his past and present with the fluidity and visual quality of the movies. A satirical portrait of social confusions. Translated by Ralph Manheim. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book

A Miracle of Catfish


Larry Brown - 2007
    His subsequent work—five novels, another story collection, and two books of nonfiction—continued to bring extraordinary praise and national attention to the writer New York Newsday called a "master." In November 2004, Brown sent the nearly completed manuscript of his sixth novel to his literary agent. A week later, he died of a massive heart attack. He was fifty-three years old.A Miracle of Catfish is that novel. Brown's trademarks—his raw detail, pared-down prose, and characters under siege—are all here. This beautiful, heartbreaking anthem to the writer's own North Mississippi land and the hard-working, hard-loving, hard-losing men it spawns is the story of one year in the lives of five characters—an old farmer with a new pond he wants stocked with baby catfish; a bankrupt fish pond stocker who secretly releases his forty-pound brood catfish into the farmer's pond; a little boy from the trailer home across the road who inadvertently hooks the behemoth catfish; the boy's inept father; and a former convict down the road who kills a second time to save his daughter. That Larry Brown died so young, and before he could see A Miracle of Catfish published, is a tragedy. That he had time to enrich the legacy of his work with this remarkable book is a blessing.

I'll Let You Go


Bruce Wagner - 2001
    He spends most of his time with young cousins Lucy, “the girl detective,” and Edward, a prodigy undaunted by the disfiguring effects of Apert Syndrome. One day, an impulsive revelation by Lucy sets in motion a chain of events that changes Tull—and the Trotter family—forever.In this latter-day Thousand and One Nights, a boy seeks his lost father and a woman finds her long-lost love . . . while a family of unimaginable wealth learns that its fate is bound up with two fugitives: Amaryllis, a street orphan who aspires to be a saint, and her protector, a homeless schizophrenic, clad in Victorian rags, who is accused of a horrifying crime.

Pillow


Andrew Battershill - 2015
    He wasn't an idiot; clearly it was wrong to punch people in the face for money. But there had been an art to it, and it had been thrilling and thoughtful for him. The zoo was also evil, a jail for animals who'd committed no crimes, but he just loved it. The way Pillow figured it, love wasn't about goodness, it wasn't about being right, loving the very best person, having the most ethical fun. Love was about being alone and making some decisions.Pillow loves animals. Especially the exotic ones. Which is why he chooses the zoo for the drug runs he does as a low-level enforcer for a crime syndicate run by André Breton. He doesn't love his life of crime, but he isn't cut out for much else, what with all the punches to the head he took as a professional boxer. And now that he's accidentally but sort of happily knocked up his neighbor, he wants to get out and go straight. But first there's the matter of some stolen coins, possibly in the possession of George Bataille, which leads Pillow on a bizarre caper that involves kidnapping a morphine-addled Antonin Artaud, some corrupt cops, a heavy dose of Surrealism, and a quest to see some giraffes.