February 15, 2016 Booklist 27 www.booklistonline.com
visit, nearly 25 years ago. Two of the witnesses
are willing to share their stories. Tess is now a
nun, and Sile is in a mental institution. Somewhere between the divine and the mad lies the
truth of what really happened. Charismatic,
potentially crazy Sile is the more compelling
of the two, but how reliable is her account?
And how much is the journalist’s attraction to
her clouding his judgment? DeAngelis (Mary
Modern, 2007) establishes several interesting scenarios about what might have actually
happened, but the spiritual mystery is overshadowed somewhat by a clunky revelation in
the final pages. —Karen Keefe
A Life Apart.
By Neel Mukherjee.
Mar. 2016. 416p. Norton, paper, $16.95
Mukherjee’s debut novel follows the complicated journey of a young Indian immigrant
forging a new life. Just a few months after his
mother’s unexpected death, 22-year-old Ritwik Ghosh receives a scholarship to attend
college in England. Though Ritwik is grateful to flee Calcutta, he struggles to find his
place as an outsider and is tormented by the
difficult memories of an abusive childhood.
Mental relief, though temporary, is found
through risky sexual liaisons with strangers.
When Ritwik’s student visa runs out, he remains in England illegally, finding work in
a diverse London neighborhood as a live-in
caretaker. To make additional money, Ritwik
soon descends into the dark chasm of life
as an undocumented immigrant, taking on
manual labor and prostitution. Interspersed
with Ritwik’s modern-day tale is one he is
writing about an English governess named
Maud Gilby. Living in India on the cusp of
the 1905 partition of Bengal, Maud finds
herself navigating an unfamiliar world which,
mirroring Ritwik’s, becomes increasingly tumultuous. Mukherjee’s tale is deeply layered,
offering a rich exploration into the ambiguity
of belonging. —Leah Strauss
By Andrew Michael Hurley.
Mar. 2016. 304p. Houghton, $25 (9780544746527).
A winter storm on a stretch of desolate
English coastline causes a landslide, revealing
the body of a baby. The discovery evokes this
gothic reminiscence of a family’s Easter-week
pilgrimage to the area, known as the Loney,
decades earlier. The first-person narrator,
known only as Tonto (a nickname given by his
priest), was a teenager in 1976 and in charge
of his older brother, mute and developmentally delayed Andrew, whom he called Hanny.
The past is brought to life when a new priest
in the community, Father Bernard, is en-
treated by Andrew’s mother to lead a trip like
previous ones to the Loney, which is near a
shrine that she hopes could be the key to heal-
ing her son. Less successful from the start, this
last pilgrimage is plagued by bad weather and
ominous occurrences, some possibly related
to legends of a local witch, in which the two
brothers become involved. An atmospheric
debut novel with well-drawn characters set on
a bedrock of faith. —Michele Leber
By Mischa Berlinski.
Mar. 2016. 400p. Farrar/Sarah Crichton, $27
(9780374230449); e-book (9780374715168).
Berlinski follows his National Book Award–
nominated debut (Fieldwork, 2007) with a
compelling tale that again immerses readers
in the intrigues of an enthralling locale. This
time it’s Haiti, a place his
narrator likens to an over-
ripe peach: alluring, juicy
with stories, but contain-
ing something rotten. The
intrigues surround the
meteoric political career of
Johel Celestin, a reform-
minded judge with U.S.
legal training and a soft but tough demeanor.
With the encouragement and security detail
of Terry White, a gruff-but-earnest Florida
cop-turned-U.N. official, Celestin wages a
populist senate campaign against a powerful
incumbent, and for a time it looks like the
impoverished coastal town of Jérémie may get
the road its people need to sell their goods in
the capital. But White falls hard for Celestin’s
beautiful wife, Nadia, whose singing career
in the States was cut short by domestic abuse
and deportation, and Celestin’s rise to power
is complicated by jealousy, corruption, and
natural disaster. Berlinski’s narrator purports
to tell a story in which the world makes sense,
with “every death a murder, every misfortune
a crime,” but the Haiti he describes is one in
which there are always multiple versions of
the truth, some we can bear to tell ourselves,
and others we cannot. —Brendan Driscoll
The Revolving Door of Life.
By Alexander McCall Smith.
Feb. 2016. 304p. illus. Anchor, $15 (9781101971918);
McCall Smith has hit upon a completely apt
title for this, his tenth installment in the 44
Scotland Street series, set in Edinburgh. Over
the course of the series, characters have moved
from the titular upscale
tenement (only a cultural
anthropologist and a family
with a wonderful seven-year-
old remain as the original
tenants), most to other Ed-
inburgh locations but, in the
case of the uptight mother
of seven-year-old Bertie Pol-
lock, into a bedouin harem. The characters
have also moved into and out of each other’s
lives, and into and out of predicaments, all
handled with McCall Smith’s deft plotting and
sometimes compassionate, sometimes biting
wit. A hero we can cheer for has emerged over
the last few books: Bertie Pollock, who yearns
to move to Glasgow as soon as he turns 18 to
escape the rule of his micromanaging mother
(now, fortuitously, in a harem). And this book
introduces a new hero, Bertie’s grandmother,
who swoops in to take care of him, showing
him a brighter world. McCall Smith devotes
whole chapters to different characters, opening
up their views through conversation and their
own reflections (even the series’ antihero, the
charming sociopath Bruce, is given his voice).
Sometimes their views are cheerful and sensi-
ble; other times mildly deluded; and still other
times, as when the chapter zooms in on Bertie’s
schoolmates, hilarious. Another tour de force
from McCall Smith. —Connie Fletcher
Spill Simmer Falter Wither.
By Sara Baume.
Mar. 2016. 288p. Houghton, $23 (9780544716193).
A year in the life of a 57-year-old man
and his dog doesn’t sound like much, but
Baume has elevated this simple conceit to
something elegant, heartbreaking, and inspiring. The man is an orphan, living in his
father’s house with no especially fond memories of
his past, no friends or family in his present, and no
excitement or enthusiasm
for the future. The dog is a
one-eyed mutt with an absolute hatred of other dogs,
due to be euthanized in a
matter of hours. The man rescues the mutt
in the hopes that the dog, now christened
ONEEYE, can help keep his home clear of
vermin. ONEEYE succeeds admirably at
this task, but the man soon realizes that their
now-intertwined lives have become fuller,
richer, and infinitely more difficult. Fans of
Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain
(2008) will adore this glimpse inside a very
unusual relationship between two very unusual creatures, but the lyric, lilting style of
Baume’s voice will endear even animal nonlovers to her thrilling and transformative
story. With echoes of Mark Haddon’s narrative style and a healthy dose of empathy
for the lost and lonely among us, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a superlative first novel.
The Stopped Heart.
By Julie Myerson.
Mar. 2016. 576p. HarperPerennial, paper, $15.99
(9780062409324); e-book, $10.99 (9780062409331).
On the first page, it’s clear that something
indescribably horrific has happened in the
past. In the present, Mary Coles and her
husband, Graham, are buying a farmhouse,
trying to escape the grief
of a loss so tragic that
Mary describes it as hav-
ing stopped her heart. The
narrative moves seamlessly
from past to present in the
same location in the Eng-
lish countryside; narrating
the sections in the past is
13-year-old Eliza, oldest of eight children,
who tells of the arrival of city man James Dix,
found under an oak tree felled in a storm,