Book Stack: 10 reads to wrap up September with

ST PHOTOS: BLOOMSBURY, HUTCHINSON HEINEMANN

SINGAPORE - In this monthly feature, The Sunday Times picks out 10 books from around the world that have just hit shelves.

Top Of The Stack

1. Chronicles From The Land Of The Happiest People On Earth

By Wole Soyinka
Fiction/Bloomsbury/Hardcover/449 pages/$42.69/Available here from Tuesday (Sept 28)
3 out of 5

"That the nation known as the Giant of Africa was credited with harbouring the Happiest People in the World was no longer news," writes Nigerian literary titan Wole Soyinka in his third novel.

To this end, the nation has created a Ministry of Happiness. It hosts the annual Festival of the People's Choice, where candidates across the country jockey to be honoured as Yeoman of the Year, a popularity contest that grows to eclipse all other reality television.

Acts of sabotage, even murder, are committed in the pursuit of this award. Candidates show their common touch by eating peasant snacks, giving lifts to the elderly, break-dancing and so on - all conveniently captured on camera.

Never mind that the country is mired in rampant corruption and endemic violence. Its people are the happiest on earth. It has the awards to show for it.

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2. Matrix

By Lauren Groff
Fiction/Hutchinson Heinemann/Paperback/260 pages/$30.94/Available here

Groff, the two-time National Book Award finalist best known for her 2015 novel Fates And Furies, takes an unpredictable turn into history with this tale of mediaeval nuns.

She takes as her heroine the obscure 12th-century poet Marie de France, here imagined as a rebellious 17-year-old expelled from the French court by her beloved queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and dispatched to run a destitute English priory.

3. A Slow Fire Burning


PHOTO: DOUBLEDAY

By Paula Hawkins
Thriller/Doubleday/Paperback/299 pages/$29.96/Available here

Hawkins, the British author famed for her 2015 bestseller The Girl On The Train, returns with another murder mystery that revels in its unreliable narrators.

When a young man is stabbed to death on a houseboat, the last three women who saw him alive come under suspicion. Laura, who is disabled from a childhood accident, was seen fleeing the boat covered in blood; Carla, the victim's aunt, is already mourning the recent death of her sister; and nosy neighbour Miriam, who found the body, is hiding secrets of her own.

4. Tenderness


PHOTO: BLOOMSBURY USA

By Alison MacLeod
Fiction/Bloomsbury USA/Hardcover/619 pages/$44.13/Available here

In 1930, a dying D. H. Lawrence reflects in exile on the early years of his marriage and his whirlwind affair with Rosalind Baynes, which would go on to inspire his most famous - and controversial - novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Nearly two decades later in New York, a young Jackie Kennedy, yet to be America's First Lady, slips into a hearing on Lady Chatterley's Lover's alleged obscenity.

MacLeod weaves together various stories in this hefty love letter to Lawrence's classic.

5. Snow Country


PHOTO: HUTCHINSON

By Sebastian Faulks
Fiction/Hutchinson/Paperback/353 pages/$30.94/Available here

As Europe recovers from one great war and heads towards another, a lovelorn journalist and a hardened young woman cross paths at the snow-bound Austrian sanatorium Schloss Seeblick.

This is the second instalment of Faulks' Austrian trilogy, following his 2005 novel Human Traces. Its title is a nod to Yukiguni, Japanese Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata's 1930s novel, which was translated into English as Snow Country. Faulks riffs on Kawabata's iconic opening line: "The train came out of a long tunnel into snowfields."

6. Apples Never Fall


​PHOTO: MICHAEL JOSEPH

By Liane Moriarty
Fiction/Michael Joseph/Paperback/465 pages/$33.17/Available here

Joy and Stan Delaney have four adult children, a thriving tennis school business and retirement to look forward to. When Joy vanishes and Stan comes under suspicion, the Delaney children must question if they ever truly knew their parents.

Australian author Moriarty, whose best-selling novels Big Little Lies (2014) and Nine Perfect Strangers (2018) have been adapted for television by stars Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, serves up another tense suburban mystery.

7. Wildland


PHOTO: BLOOMSBURY

By Evan Osnos
Non-fiction/Bloomsbury/Hardcover/465 pages/$45.54/Available here

Osnos, a National Book Award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, spent six years delving into the unravelling of America.

He reports from three places in which he has lived - Greenwich in Connecticut, Chicago and Clarksburg in West Virginia - and meets people like billionaires, coal miners and former soldiers to draw his portrait of a nation starkly divided by inequality.

8. The Magician


PHOTO: VIKING

By Colm Toibin
Fiction/Viking/Paperback/438 pages/$33.17/Available here

The Irish writer, who previously portrayed author Henry James in the Booker Prize-shortlisted The Master (2004), takes another stab at fictionalised biography, this time with German Nobel laureate Thomas Mann.

It follows the Death In Venice writer and his family through the early 20th century from one world war to another, as they are forced to go into exile after Hitler's rise to power.

9. The Book Of Form And Emptiness


PHOTO: CANONGATE

By Ruth Ozeki
Fiction/Canongate/Paperback/548 pages/$32.64/Available here

Ozeki, the first practising Zen Buddhist priest to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, pens a metafictional tale about book love. A year after the death of his musician father, Benny Oh, 13, begins to hear voices coming from things in his house.

When the voices follow Benny outside, he seeks refuge in the library, where the objects speak in whispers. There he meets colourful characters like a street artist and a homeless poet, as well as his own Book, which narrates his life.

10. The Man Who Died Twice


PHOTO: VIKING

 

By Richard Osman
Mystery/Viking/Paperback/368 pages/$29.58/Available here

The sequel to Osman's cosy crime mystery The Thursday Murder Club (2020) has already become one of the fastest-selling novels since records began. According to Nielsen BookScan, the British TV personality's second novel sold 114,202 copies in its first three days on sale.

Osman's septuagenerian detectives, who live in a retirement community, reconvene for crime-solving when one of them receives a letter from an old colleague. Soon, they are embroiled in a plot involving stolen diamonds, drug deals and an angry mobster.

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