Here’s what I know about Nick Harkaway’s new book: there’s a gangster in it, and it runs about 200,000 words. And I’m not sure about the second point. I’ve been studiously avoiding any and all information about Angelmaker. I’m going solely on my experience with Harkaway’s last novel, The Gone-Away World, a rollicking, inventive, and wholly entertaining post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. It was so good that I’ve been looking forward to his followup for years.
Like Angelmaker, I haven’t been reading much about Leyner’s new novel, but that’s more because Leyner’s writing tends to be unsummarizable. You might call him surreal, or avant-garde—he’s very funny, to me at least, but the average Goodreads reader HATES him. So if you’re thinking about picking this one up, ignore all the flap copy and most of the reviews and just try out the first few pages. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly whether you’re into it or it makes your skin crawl.
Bernie Krause, a naturalist and musician, examines how animals create and utilize sound, and interprets soundscapes as evolutionary mechanisms instead of just mindless cacophonies. He also explores and explains how the growing noise of human civilization threatens to drown out natural sounds altogether. Sounds like the book version of a David Attenborough documentary, which would be fine by me. Speaking of the effects of human noise, here’s an amazing Attenborough clip in which a lyre bird has learned to imitate the sounds of cameras and chainsaws.
In St. Petersburg, a Russian chess champion launches a rebellious political campaign against Vladimir Putin (who, in reality, is expected to be elected President this Sunday, despite widespread protests and a recent alleged assassination attempt). Meanwhile, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a young English lecturer finds an old letter her father sent to that chess champion. She leaves everything behind and goes to find the champion and get some answers. Of all the March maybes, this one has the most intriguing premise.
Kate, an ex-spy, moves to Luxembourg with her husband, happily leaving her covert life behind. Then she discovers that her husband’s mysterious new job is much more nefarious than it first appeared. Nothing about this setup leads me to believe that The Expats will be groundbreaking, but I’d settle for a good, solid thriller.
Bergman’s debut story collection revolves around human connections with the natural world. Early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and a writer debuting with a story collection is rare enough in this novel-obsessed publishing landscape. So this sounds worth a shot.
Groff’s second novel (about life on a commune) has been garnering truckloads of praise, but so did her first one, and it was disappointing. Groff writes good prose and some interesting characters, but she fails at interpersonal drama and dialogue. If you want an untaxing soap opera posing as literary fiction, look no further. If you want something great, skip this and read Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia instead—it is a masterpiece.
In a soft-selling plot synopsis, Publishers Weekly writes, “In 2018, the Republican president decides that a recent atrocity in Uganda merits intervention by American armed forces. Meanwhile, a hedge fund partner decides, given the current political climate and based on an insider tip, that he can make a nice chunk of money by shorting U.S. banks.” Sounds like a couple of Tuesday afternoons.