My pick for the must-read book of the season, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, $27),opens on the Breton coast in the days just following D-Day. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who escaped from Paris with her father but is alone while Allied planes drop leaflets and German artillery batters the town of Saint-Malo. Werner, a young German radio operator, is trapped in the basement of a bombed-out building just blocks away. Doerr’s exquisitely plotted novel traces the paths of Marie-Laure and Werner from childhood to their inevitable meeting. Short chapters move the story at a brisk pace, and Doerr’s unerring eye for detail makes the book hard to put down and impossible to forget.
In his second novel, Adam Foulds, one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists and the author of the Booker-nominated The Quickening Maze, plunges readers into the thick of the action as American and British troops close down World War II in Africa and Sicily. Foulds’s narrative is episodic, with prose that flashes like the bullets and explosions it evokes; grim scenes are sharply noted—as when a man suddenly becomes a “body full of incomprehensible space”—and the troops move on, “catching up with the battlefield.” When the Allies reach Sicily, where In the Wolf’s Mouth (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26) is slang for “good luck,” the soldiers’ perspectives are joined by those of princes, peasants, and thugs; with the world war out of the way, the local battle for Sicily goes into high gear, and the traditional feudal system gives way to the Mafia. Speaking for the latter is Ciro Albanese—a truly scary character. Naturally brutal, he becomes breathtakingly ruthless as he returns to his village from America to claim what’s his.
Guiding you through this slim modern saga is Valdimar Haraldsson, the eccentric, pompous author of Fisk og Kultur, a seventeen-volume work on the link between fish consumption and the superiority of the Nordic race (set in 1949, the book is suggestive, but never explicitly moralistic). From Valdimar’s self-important and sometimes oblivious perspective, we follow a Danish merchant ship across the Black Sea. During the voyage, second mate Caeneus regales the passengers with tales from his time with Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece. Caeneus weaves his increasingly fantastic stories into the daily life of the current expedition, blurring the boundary between myth and truth. The Whispering Muse (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $12), the third novel(la) by the Icelandic writer Sjon, succeeds at both the surface level of a quirky, satirical story and a deeper, darker exploration of cultures and peoples.
(This book cannot be returned.)