The following new and relatively new books are sitting on my desk, only they’re not physically present on my desk. They’re represented by pieces of paper torn from pages in book review publications. I consider this growing handful of paper a reading table of sorts. Actually, it’s a control measure due to books now living on the floor in my house, something I said I would never allow. Clearly, books on the floor is a sign I need to control my literary acquisitions. Hence, this style of reading table that gathers paper as a first step versus impulsively acquiring at first love.

I share these books because readers who don’t comb book review journals, especially those from London, may not be aware of them.

Act of Passion by Georges Simenon

NYRB Classics recently published this Georges Simenon novel, Act of Passion, about a successful doctor who abandons his comfortable married life to pursue and attempt to possess a love interest. Sounds like a common plotline; however, in the hands of Simenon, creator of Inspector Maigret, the story’s probably a well-crafted stunner. The Times Literary Supplement writes, “Simenon creates a character both compelling and repulsive, clear-eyed and deluded at the same time.” The novel was originally published in 1947 in France as Lettre à mon juge, a more fitting title to the story, considering it’s written as an apology letter from the doctor to the magistrate in his murder trial. Act of Passion is translated by the late Louise Varèse.

Julia by Otto de Kat

Perhaps it’s unfair to list this novel because it’s not published (yet?) in the U.S., although you can still purchase it online. I’ve come across it a few times in U.K. reviews, and it’s one I’ve got my eye on. Julia by Otto de Kat was originally published in Dutch in 2008 and recently translated into English by Ina Rilke. This slight, 168-page novel concerns a Dutchman’s encounter with a woman (Julia Berger) for a brief time in Germany, 1938. From The Independent: “De Kat’s ambition of theme is served by astonishing tautness of construction and spareness of language, beautifully rendered by Ina Rilke. And, most movingly, the novel offers us glimpses of uncompromising virtue, not always in expected places.”

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

Canadian author Emma Donoghue may bring to mind her best-selling Room, a ripped-from-the-headlines story about a kidnapping. She also wrote The Sealed Letter. It was published in the U.S. and Canada in 2008, before Room. It’s historical fiction based on a scandalous Victorian divorce in 1860’s London. Picador recently published it for the first time in the U.K. It was reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement, where it got my attention. On Donoghue’s website, a quote from the Daily Mail says it’s “a page-turning drama packed with sex, passion and intrigue.” Also, according to The New York Times review in 2008: “the plot is psychologically informed, fast paced and eminently readable.”

The Manuscript of Great Expectations: From the Townshend Collection, Wisbech by Charles Dickens

This book intrigues me because of the opportunity to experience an author’s decision-making, word by word, sentence by sentence, as he brings a story to life. It’s an exact reproduction in color and size of the hand-written manuscript of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The museum that owns the 1860 manuscript collaborated with Cambridge University Press to produce the original papers in book format for the first time (according to this article in The Guardian). I love that The Guardian provides a gallery view you can click through for a taste of what’s inside the book. What a wonder to think this is how books used to be written. Pen and ink seems so much more of an intimate, demanding experience with words than typing.

The New Granta Book of Travel
edited by Liz Jobey, introduction by Jonathan Raban

This collection of travel narratives will be available in the U.S. April 2012. It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in travel memoirs. One of my long-time favorites is Mary Morris’s Nothing to Declare. More recently, I wanted to read but didn’t Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia. And so here, a collection of diverse travels essays calling to me. From The Independent: “What’s particularly interesting is how it illuminates the diversity of modern travel. In ‘Arrival’ we have an asylum seeker’s first experience of coming to Britain. Albino Ochero-Okello’s poignant tale turns the idea of travel for pleasure on its head. For a refugee, travel is a means of survival.'” Also, reading the book’s introduction via Amazon’s preview option, Jonathan Raban describes an essay about a Victorian-style imperial expedition into the heart of the Congo as well as a walk in East Ayrshire — “Her journey lasts an hour or so, and covers perhaps a mile, but one need not travel far or for long to travel deep…”

How It All Began by Penelope Lively

I became a Penelope Lively fan with her Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger, so a new book always gets my attention. How It All Began is getting positive reviews by the major U.S. papers, a story that starts with the mugging of a retired schoolteacher in London and then unfolds with the resulting consequences. The publisher’s website says, “Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people’s lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet.” Sounds like another good one — How It All Began is Lively’s 20th work of fiction.

Tuesday, October 12, we’ll find out who will take home this year’s prestigious U.K. Man Booker literary prize, won last year by Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall. Emma Donoghue’s Room is a favorite at Ladbrokes, the British-based gambling company, with Tom McCarthy’s C the front-runner. But this past Wednesday morning, something suspicious happened at the betting agency. Ladbrokes received a burst of bets for C, totalling £15,000 (approximately $24,000 via NYT), and that caused the betting establishment  to suspend further Man Booker wagers. From the U.K. Telegraph:

“David Williams, a Ladbrokes spokesman, said: ‘We have ten years experience of taking bets on the Booker Prize and this is something we have never seen. To have an odds on favourite the week before the announcement is just unprecedented. When you see a rush of bets for one person and only one person, there is something going on.’” 

The novel C is the story of Serge Carrefax, his childhood in early 20th century England and then his travels into the world. Favorable reviews of the novel abound, with many citing its complexity.  I love this comment by Jenny Turner in the London Review of Books about her reading experience of C:

“As will, I think, be obvious, I had a whale of a time with this book, propped on my laptop, Wikipedia open in one window and in another, the OED [Oxford English Dictionary]. It was like being a guest at the dream-party of an extremely well-read host: things read a long time ago and more or less forgotten, things never read that I always meant to, things I certainly will read now, having seen how McCarthy can make them work.”

In addition to McCarthy’s C and Donoghue’s Room, the 2010 Man Booker shortlist of six candidates includes Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America, Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room, Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question and Andrea Levy’s The Long Song. Judges will meet on Tuesday to deliberate and name a winner, putting to rest all speculation and possibly surprising us.

Football Friday nights and tailgating Saturday afternoons are on the horizon. So, too, good books from new and established writers. 

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is getting a lot of attention, including a cover shot of Franzen on Time magazine. Other books also are getting attention, just more quietly. Here are some scheduled for September publication. A note about October books at the end. 

The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian: A first novel published by Putnam’s Amy Einhorn imprint that brought us Kathryn Stockett’s debut, The Help. This is the story of 92-year-old Emmet Conn who’s suffered memory loss all his life from a war injury in World War I. Now, due to a brain tumor, long-suppressed memories surface in dreams and visions. “What does it mean to forget, and then remember?” asks the author’s website. Set in Turkey in the beginning of the 20th Century and America at the end, the plot portends an intriguing read.

The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass: This is the fourth novel by 2002 National Book Award-winner Glass (Three Junes). Her new story focuses on a retired man named Percy Darling who gives the barn on his historic farm to a local preschool. Naturally, there are unexpected consequences. From the publisher’s website: “With equal parts affection and satire, Julia Glass spins a captivating tale about the loyalties, rivalries, and secrets of a very particular family. Yet again, she plumbs the human heart brilliantly, dramatically, and movingly.” 

Room by Emma Donoghue.  This 2010 Man Booker longlist candidate is narrated by five-year-old Jack, who lives with his mother in a small room where they’re held captive. Jack’s mother was abducted seven years ago, and Jack is a result of the sexual relationship she’s forced to have with her abductor. From Emma Donoghue’s website:    “…ROOM is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child. VOGUE calls it ‘A dark fairy tale… curiously uplifting.’” From Library Journal: “Gripping, riveting, and close to the bone, this story grabs you and doesn’t let go.” 

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray.  Another 2010 Man Booker longlist candidate, this is the story of a boy at an elite boarding school in Dublin, Ireland, and the circumstances surrounding his death. You can purchase either the omnibus version (closing in on 700 pages) or three paperbacks in a set. Definitely a reading commitment but, considering the praise this novel’s received, I’m betting it’s a worthy investment of time. You can read an excerpt from the book on the Guardian website.

Vestments by John Reimringer: A debut novel published by small press Milkweed Editions about a priest torn between his love for the church and love for a woman. On Reimringer’s website, Publisher’s Weekly describes it as “suspenseful, illuminating and highly readable.” You can read an excerpt on the Milkweed Editions website, which says this about the book: “Originally drawn to the priesthood by the mystery, purity, and sensual fabric of the Church, as well as by its promise of a safe harbor from his violent father, James finds himself—just a few years after his ordination—attracted again to his first love, Betty García. Torn between these competing loves, and haunted by his father’s heritage, James finds himself at a crossroads.”

October books:  Looking further ahead, in October we can anticipate books from established authors Bernhard Schlink (author of The Reader), Michael Cunningham (author of Pulitzer Prize-winner The Hours) and, no surprise, the prolific Philip Roth.

Below are 13 novels that made the longlist for the United Kingdom’s 2010 Man Booker Prize. The shortlist will be announced on September 7. The award winner will be announced on October 12. Last year, Hilary Mantel won for Wolf Hall.

According to the Man Booker website, the prize, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008, aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.

One book on this year’s long list — The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas — is causing controversy. According to The Guardian: “…while some readers including, evidently, the Booker judges speak excitedly of the Australian author’s bravery in tackling uncomfortable truths, others criticise the word-of-mouth hit as ‘offensive’ and say it is full of ‘unbelievable misogyny’. The Slap is turning out to be the most divisive Booker novel in years.”

You can read an interview with Tsiolkas from the book’s linked title below.  Also below is the rest of the 2010 Booker longlist. The books are linked to websites offering more information. Or, you can go to the Man Booker web page that gathers the books with summaries in one place. Being this is a British prize, not all the books are published yet in the U.S.

Peter Carey: Parrot and Olivier in America
Published in the U.S. in April 2010 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing

Emma Donoghue: Room
Scheduled to be published in the U.S. in September 2010 by Little, Brown & Company

Helen Dunmore:  The Betrayal
Not scheduled for U.S. publication at this time

Damon Galgut: In a Strange Room
Scheduled to be published in the U.S. this month by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. (paperback)
Correction: In a Strange Room is not yet scheduled for publicaton in the U.S. McCelland & Stewart is a Canadian publisher.

Howard Jacobson: The Finkler Question
Not scheduled for U.S. publication at this time

Andrea Levy: The Long Song
Published in the U.S. in April 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tom McCarthy: C
Scheduled to be published in the U.S. in September 2010 by Knopf

David Mitchell: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Published in the U.S. in June 2010 by Random House

Lisa Moore: February
Published in the U.S. in February 2010 by Grove Press/Black Cat (paperback)

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies
Scheduled to be published in the U.S. end of this month by Faber & Faber

Rose Tremain: Trespass
Scheduled to be published in the U.S. October 2010 by W. W. Norton & Co.

Christos Tsiolkas: The Slap
Published in the U.S. in April 2010 by Penguin (paperback)

Alan Warner: The Stars in the Bright Sky
Not available at this time in the U.S.

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