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Books|Eavesdropping, Worms and Outrageous Fortune
Our critic recommends old and new books.
July 30, 2022, 7:50 a.m. ET
The walls in my apartment are flimsy enough that I know many details about my neighbors. “Am I being creepy or merely conscious?” is a question that reoccurs when certain personal noises penetrate the drywall. As long as I don’t aggressively pursue eavesdropping opportunities — by, say, standing against the wall with a drinking glass to my ear — I think I can claim innocence. And anyway, it’s a two-way street; surely the neighbors have gleaned uninvited data about my habits, too. To paraphrase a proverb: What I don’t know about what they know can’t hurt me!
Below, two novels that conducted me away from my pestilent urban dwelling and into 1) a country cottage and 2) a rural manor.
“The Editor’s Wife,” by Clare Chambers
Chris lives at the edge of a moor in an old cottage with crumbling plaster and ceilings low enough that he risks auto-beheading every time he climbs the stairs. He is 45 years old and has been “made redundant” from his job. But he is content with a humble country life and empty calendar, and soon we learn why: Chris’s youth was filled with enough drama to fuel a season’s worth of reality TV.
One day an unexpected visitor inquires about Chris’s past — a past that features adultery, divorce, sibling warfare, artistic triumph, professional despair and more. A real can of worms. Too many worms, actually; there may be a surplus of plot here, but it is sustained by an abundance of acute perceptions. The cover of my edition, pictured above, is painfully unrepresentative of the text.
“The Maker of Swans,” by Paraic O’Donnell
Mr. Crowe is a man of outrageous fortune. His estate boasts formal gardens, a hedge maze, a croquet lawn and a perfectly square-shaped pond. (How? Why?) For dinner he eats lobster garnished with flecks of gold leaf. (How? Why?) Other occupants of the house include Eustace, a butler and consigliere, and Clara, a child with an unspecified disability that renders her incapable of speech. During a routine evening of debauchery, Mr. Crowe whips out a gun and appears to kill a guy on his property — but when the corpse is examined, there are no bullet wounds. And that’s not the only mystery!
This novel — which floats between gothic and fantasy — starts at a leisurely trot and works its way up to a gallop. That’s not a polite way of saying that the book is boring; only that the first act is meticulous in its preparation for the twists that follow.
Why don’t you …
Slither into “Old Masters” if you LOVE art/diatribes and HATE sentimentality/paragraph breaks?
Tell people you’ve had “IMPRUDENT SOLARIZATION” next time you get a sunburn? (And steal other phrases from Nabokov while you’re at it.)
Sigh and resign yourself to FULL-BLOWN INFATUATION with yet another word puzzle? As far as I can tell the site contains no instructions for how to play, but you’ll be able to figure it out.
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