Not all the new books fall into easily defined categories, mysteries, historical, speculative fiction, romance or whatever. Some of the most interesting and rewarding books fall into one of my favorite categories: quirky (some might say “odd” or even “bizarre”, but for obvious reasons I prefer “quirky”). These are the books that take a slightly skewed look at the world around us, that start from unusual premises and aren’t afraid to go all the way with them. There are a few new quirky novels here at the library that might be just the thing to pop you out of an ordinary period of reading.
What, you might ask, is quirky about the Hundred Years War, that seemingly endless medieval conflict between England and France over the rulership of France which produced Crecy and Agincourt, Henry V and Joan of Arc? Well, in the new book Son of the Morning: A Novel of the Hundred Years’ War by Mark Alder, the addition of angels and demons definitely changes the whole picture of the war. As the kings of both England and France face their prospects in the war in the year 1337, they both seek independently to gain the favor of heaven, trying to recruit angels to fight on their side, to the point of sending people out to search for holy men and relics that could get God’s attention and favor. After a while, though, Edward of England begins to wonder if maybe he’s have better luck seeking out supernatural help from another direction, from hell itself. Will God actually intervene? Will Lucifer? What effects will these potential interventions have on the history of Europe?
Might you be interested in the questions of life after death in a different way? You might want to try The Sleep Garden by Jim Krusoe. The book takes place in The Burrow, a strange underground apartment building where “twilight” souls inhabit the space between life and death, and a series of technicians monitor their biological and psychological processes, keeping them supplied with food and oxygen so they can remain in this state of something like purgatory until they are able to move on. The stories of those twilight people and those who take care of them intertwine, raising questions of what is life, what is death, and what actually survives you.
There’s something about the work of H.P. Lovecraft that seems to inspire writers more than ever. Perhaps it’s the genuine weirdness of the world he created and its seeming applicability to modern day life, and perhaps it’s Lovecraft’s well-known problems (his racism, his misogyny, his personal weirdness) that inspire people to their own takes on Lovecraft’s work. In Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, the author takes on the deep rooted racism of Lovecraft’s world head on. In 1954, the main character, Atticus Turner, is a black man looking for his missing father, in the company of his uncle and childhood friend. His journey takes him to the manor of one Samuel Brathwaite, and along the way he and his companions encounter both the dangers of being black in a segregated and prejudiced society and the dangers of a supernatural nature. They find Atticus’ father being held prisoner by a secret cabal with warped rituals that require Atticus himself, and to fight against this terrible sect, Atticus might just have to destroy not only himself but his entire clan.
The premise of the novel, Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett, is reminiscent of Kafka: one morning a young Nigerian man wakes up to discover that he’s turned white. Well, most of him has turned white: his backside is still black. He changes his name, works on his accent, his behavior, all the things that would ordinarily label him as black, and soon finds himself with a new job, a new life, and connections with people who may be trying to rip him off or use him for their own purposes. A satire about modern life, especially but not only in Nigeria, a look at the importance we place on appearance and the kind of double dealing and false faces we take for granted in ordinary business life, Blackass is a unique and eye-opening, if quirky, book.