Fans of Wolf Hall and “Bring Up the Bodies” will be excited to delve into Mantel’s newest (and shortest!) read for our February pick. Other almost reads from Bonnie are listed below.
Mantel, Hilary. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, 2014. (256 pgs.)
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2014: Bookended by stories about two very different kinds of home invasions, Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is a daring but frustrating collection. There are only ten stories after all, a few of them quite spare, but all so chock-full of vivid detail and devilish wit that it leaves the reader wanting more. Standouts in the collection are the semi-autobiographical “Sorry to Disturb,” which illustrates the perils of being too polite, the spooky “Terminus” that exquisitely depicts the madness and longing of loss, and the tender “How Shall I Know You?” where a writer’s encounter with a needy child leads to a stark reminder of her own fragile state. Many of the stories mine the baser sides of humanity, but Mantel does it with a wink. At the conclusion of “Winter Break” a ghastly truth is revealed, and like the woman who witnesses it, we want to look away… but only until the next page. They don’t hand out Man Bookers like candy, and these stories further explain why Mantel has two on her mantel (so far). –Erin Kodicek
Other suggestions from Bonnie:
Klay, Phil. Redeployment, 2014. (305 pgs.)
*Starred Review, Booklist* Klay’s stories are sensational, with vivid characters, biting dialogue, and life within and beyond the Afghan and Iraq wars conveyed with an addictive combination of the mundane and the horrifying. A soldier reenters civilian life after the surreal wartime task of shooting dogs that eat corpses. A rookie takes part in a raid on insurgents and then eats cobbler. Two soldiers agree to swap responsibility for a killing. A foreign service officer navigates bureaucracy with results that are no less sad for being comic. Soldiers return to barracks after patrol and wordlessly pick up their video games, which they choose over sleep. Redeployment is most remarkable, though, for the questions it asks about the aims and effects of war stories themselves, and Klay displays a thoughtful awareness of this literary tradition. That perspective holds these diverse tales together, as his narrators ask why and how war stories are told. What details does a soldier share with civilians? Does one tell it funny or tell it serious? Is the storytelling a further return to war, a redeployment in itself? Those questions, and Klay’s exciting new voice, may stay with the reader long after this book is back on the shelf. –Annie Tully
Li, Yiyun. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl: Stories, 2011, (256 pgs.)
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly. The nine brilliant stories in Li’s collection (after The Vagrants) offer a frighteningly lucid vision of human fate. In the title story, motherless Siyu has long been in love with an older zoology professor, Dai, who suddenly wants Siyu, 38 and single, to marry Dai’s gay 42-year-old son, Hanfeng. In “A Man Like Him,” retired art teacher Fei embarks on a strange quest after reading a story about a Web site devoted to shaming a man who left his wife. Fei seeks out the man, needing to confide to him his own sordid brush with infamy. The collection’s magnificent centerpiece is “Kindness,” the novella-length reminiscence of a spiritually despondent math teacher named Moyan, whose bleak story begins with the emotional starvation she suffered from her adoptive parents and grimly continues over the years as two older women–an English teacher and Moyan’s army superior–attempt, unsuccessfully, to reach out to her. Li’s description of army life, and particularly her description of Moyan’s regiment’s march across Mount Dabi, is a bravura piece of writing, but it’s Moyan’s evolution from pitiable to borderline heroic (in her own way) that is Li’s greatest achievement.
Munro, Alice. Vintage Munro: Nobel Prize Edition. 2014, (225 pgs.)
“Alice Munro is often able to say more in 30 pages than an ordinary novelist is capable of in 300. She is a virtuoso of the elliptical . . . the master of the contemporary short story. . . . Munro, like few others, have come close to solving the greatest mystery of them all: the human heart and its caprices.” —The Nobel Prize in Literature 2013 – Presentation Speech