Her new story collection, “Old Babes in the Wood,” offers elegiac scenes from a marriage plus a grab bag of curious fables.
There are authors we turn to because they can uncannily predict our future; there are authors we need for their skillful diagnosis of our present; and there are authors we love because they can explain our past. And then there are the outliers: those who gift us with timelines other than the one we’re stuck in, realities far from home. If anyone has proved, over the course of a long and wildly diverse career, that she can be all four, it’s Margaret Atwood.
Michael Lesy’s book of historical photographs and found text offers a singular portrait of American life.
Michael Lesy’s 1973 book “Wisconsin Death Trip” is an American oddity, a cult classic for a reason. In a way that few documentary texts do, it makes us leave the baggage of modernity at the trailhead. It forces us back into the inconceivably long nights in rural and small-town America before the widespread use of electricity, before radio, before antibiotics for dying children and antidepressants for anxiety bordering on mania, when events could make a family feel that some nocturnal beast had chalked its door.
NOBODY HAS EVER seen the economy. We can see specific markets, but my local farmers’ market looks very different from the Diamond District in Manhattan and even the street stalls I frequented in East London.
Markets are institutions with more or less physical infrastructures, but “the market” (like “the economy”) is an abstraction, no more fixed or certain than “the Left” or “nature.” If “the economy” and “the market” are often described as though they were things out there in the world to be measured and monitored while other abstractions (such as “beauty” and “joy”) are not, that tells us as much about ways of thinking as it does about the workings of the world.
Powered by this insight, the history of economic thought (and related “new histories of capitalism”) has grown over the past 20 years to become one of the most lively and popular historical subfields.
The recent controversy over Jacob Soll’s new book Free Market: The History of an Idea (2022) reveals just how attached some people are to their economic ideologies (no surprise there) and to their ideas about who gets to have “economic thoughts.”
In a sweeping text that ranges across 2,500 years in barely 250 pages, Soll argues that, for centuries, “free” markets were understood as existing only where strong, moral governments liberated trade from domination by selfish, moneyed merchants. Markets had to be set free—they were not born that way—and the danger has always lurked of commerce being recaptured to enrich the few rather than benefit the many.
This is a loosely “antitrust” way of describing market freedom, and it might have barely registered at all had Soll attributed it chiefly to Louis Brandeis, Frances Perkins (secretary of labor under FDR), or even Machiavelli. But by invoking the name “Adam Smith,” Soll seems to have violated the holy of holies.
Given the relentlessly grim nature of the news this year, it’s hardly surprising that escapism in the form of cosy crime continues to challenge traditional crime/thriller bestsellers, with Richard Osman’s third Thursday Murder Club mystery, The Bullet That Missed (Viking), riding high in the charts. The last 12 months have seen a bumper crop of excellent books at the cosy end of the spectrum, from Ajay Chowdhury’s second crime novel, The Cook (Harvill Secker), set against the backdrop of an east London curry house, to veteran Canadian author Louise Penny’s 18th Armand Gamache novel,A World of Curiosities(Hodder & Stoughton).
Inventiveness appears to be on the rise, too. Janice Hallett’s second novel, The Twyford Code (Viper), told in transcribed audio files retrieved from an iPhone, succeeds in being fiendishly clever and very moving. Authors such as Gillian McAllister, whose Wrong Place Wrong Time (Michael Joseph) is an ingeniously plotted murder mystery in which time travels backwards, and Gabino Iglesias, whose high-octane southern noir thriller The Devil Takes You Home (Wildfire) has supernatural elements, are also giving the genre a welcome shot in the arm. Others have approached familiar tropes from new angles: the main character in CS Robertson’s The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill (Hodder & Stoughton) is not a cop but a “death cleaner”.
Recent revelations have meant that the British public’s growing distrust of the police is very much a part of the UK’s permacrisis. Ian Rankin, creator of maverick cop John Rebus, commented recently that there are “big questions” for authors who write police procedurals. “In the current state of the world, how can you write about a police officer and make them the goody, when we look around us and see that so often the police are not the goodies?” In his latest Rebus novel, the splendid A Heart Full of Headstones (Orion), an officer who has been charged with domestic violence tries to make a deal by stitching up dodgy colleagues.
The year has been punctuated by the collective groans of crime fiction critics as the results of yet another male celebrity’s lockdown diversion landed on their doormats (presumably the female celebrities were too busy home schooling). The most impressive of these is Frankie Boyle’sMeantime(John Murray): set in Glasgow during the aftermath of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, it’s both funny and moving.
There have been plenty of excellent non-celebrity debuts. Standouts include Patrick Worrall’s complex spy thriller The Partisan (Transworld); Conner Habib’s Hawk Mountain (Transworld), a paranoid and unsettling tale of masculinity in crisis; and Wake (Hodder & Stoughton), Australian newcomer Shelley Burr’s sensitive exploration of the aftermath of trauma in a parched outback town. Katie Gutierrez’s More Than You’ll Ever Know (Michael Joseph) is an intelligent and nuanced examination of the complicated relationship between a true-crime writer and her subject, a female bigamist. And The Maid by Nita Prose (HarperCollins) will have you rooting for its titular heroine, neurodivergent Molly, as she finds herself caught up in a web of deception at the fancy Regency Grand Hotel.
There have been strong additions to other long-running and well-loved police series, such as Give Unto Others (Hutchinson Heinemann), the 31st novel to feature Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti, and The Murder Book (Little, Brown), 18th outing for Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne. More recent additions to the police procedural canon include Elly Griffith’s DI Harbinder Kaur, who had her third outing in Bleeding Heart Yard(Quercus), and Alan Parks’s shambolic, mid-70s Glaswegian detective Harry McCoy, who had his fifth in May God Forgive (Canongate). Maror by Lavie Tidhar (Apollo), an epic, multi-generational thriller set in Israel, with an enigmatic cop at its centre, is also well worth the read.
Highlights in historical crime include Blue Water (Viper) by Leonora Nattrass, a shipboard thriller set in 1794, and The Lost Man of Bombay (Hodder & Stoughton), the third in Vaseem Khan’s excellent series set in post-partition India. Alternative history has been well served by the thoroughly chilling Queen High (Quercus), CJ Carey’s sequel to last year’s superb Widowland, which imagines a postwar Britain under Nazi rule.
Although translated crime fiction seems thinner on the ground at the moment, the quality is high: standouts include Olivier Norek’s impressive policier Breaking Point (MacLehose, translated from French by Nick Caister) and Antti Tuomainen’s delightfully funny The Moose Paradox (Orenda, translated from Finnish by David Hackston). All in all, the genre seems in good shape: a broader church, less formulaic and more exciting.
During the 1960s, Christchurch, New Zealand exploded with a creative force which developed into a distinct style of architecture that was widely admired and imitated and remains influential today.
This is a book about a modern architectural movement that bubbled up in a small, conservative city at the bottom of the world.
For a decade Christchurch architects worked with a potent energy and urgency, creating hundreds of homes (and many of New Zealand’s best public and commercial buildings) in a regional style that is arguably the closest thing the country has to a modern indigenous style of architecture.
The 12 homes illustrated in the book are just a small representation of the style and architects of the period. They remain as intact examples of the ideas, materials and optimism of the time.