While the end of summer marks the conclusion of the beach-reading season, publishers are saving some of the year’s biggest books for the cooler months. From the return of Robert Langdon and another novel from Nicholas Sparks to the newest novels from literary powerhouses like Audrey Niffenegger, Margaret Atwood and John Irving, this fall is shaping up to be the season of the next big book.
Dan Brown is back
When Dan Brown’s publishers announced the title and on-sale date of the long-awaited sequel to The Da Vinci Code this spring, fans went absolutely wild. You couldn’t check an online bookseller without being cheerfully encouraged to “Pre-Order Your Copy Today!” And for good reason. To be released on September 15 with a first printing of five million copies, The Lost Symbol is the follow-up to Brown’s record-breaking international bestseller. The new book will once again feature symbologist hero Robert Langdon, this time in a thriller that revolves around the Freemasons, an organization that Brown has called the “oldest fraternity in history.” The book jacket features the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., lit up against the background of a large red wax seal. Embedded in the wax is an unidentifiable symbol. There have long been theories tying the Freemasons to our nation’s capital—including speculation that the streets of Washington, D.C. were planned to physically mirror important Masonic symbols. Does the jacket offer clues to the plot? “Nothing ever is as it first appears in a Dan Brown novel,” says Jason Kaufman, Brown’s longtime editor at Doubleday. “This book’s narrative takes place in a 12-hour period, and from the first page, Dan’s readers will feel the thrill of discovery as they follow Robert Langdon through a masterful and unexpected new landscape. The Lost Symbol is full of surprises.” Since the books will no doubt be under lockand- key until the on-sale date, all we can do is wait and wonder. And pre-order, of course.
Familial love and loss
Considered the reigning champ of the contemporary family drama/love story genre, Nicholas Sparks seems to churn out a new bestseller every year. After last year’s The Lucky One, Sparks is back this month with The Last Song. In this, Sparks’ 15th novel, we meet troubled teen Veronica “Ronnie” Miller as her world is falling apart. Still heartbroken and angry about her parents’ divorce three years earlier, Ronnie is furious when her mother decides she should leave their home in New York City and join her now-reclusive father for the summer in Wilmington, North Carolina. Readers who dive into Sparks’ soon-to-be bestseller should count on equal doses of raw emotion, young love, family angst and— ultimately—sweet resolution. A movie version is due in early 2010, and sources say Sparks wrote the novel (and co-wrote the screenplay) with teen queen star Miley Cyrus in mind.
More from The Time Traveler
Six years (and a reported $5 million advance) after her debut smash The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger is back with the September 29 release of Her Fearful Symmetry. The story begins as Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer in London. She has long been estranged from her twin sister, Edie, but nevertheless leaves her London flat to Edie’s twin daughters—Julia and Valentina—who never knew their Aunt Elspeth. Twenty-year-old Julia and Valentina have lived in America their whole lives, and they are intrigued by their aunt’s generosity and a chance at an exciting new life in London. But their inheritance has specific conditions: the twins must live in Elspeth’s apartment together, and they must stay for at least one year; even stranger, Edie and her husband Jack are forbidden to set foot in the flat. The twins will have another roommate in their new London home—the ghost of Aunt Elspeth. While early reviews have not been entirely favorable, readers will have to make up their own minds about this much-hyped spooky story.
Another big-name author to return to bookstores in September is the brilliant and inventive Margaret Atwood. Her first full-length novel since 2003’s Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood is being hailed as another “dystopic masterpiece.” Of returning to the desolate landscape she mined in Oryx, Atwood explains: “In the three years that passed before I began writing The Year of the Flood, the perceived gap between that supposedly unreal future and the harsh one we might very well live through was narrowing fast. What is happening to our world? What can we do to reverse the damage? How long have we got?” Looks like we’re in for another fascinating—and important—literary treat from the incomparable Atwood.
From father to son
Many John Irving fans were unsure what to make of the author’s last offering, 2005’s Until I Find You. Supposedly his most personal work to date, the novel received mixed reviews and didn’t come close to hitting the sales marks of Irving’s beloved bestsellers. But early readers are buzzing about his October 27 release, Last Night in Twisted River, a dark father/son story and Irving’s 12th novel. In 1954, in a small New Hampshire town, a nervous 12-year-old boy mistakes the local sheriff ’s girlfriend for a wild animal. Tragedy follows, and the boy and his father start a life on the run, traveling from Coos County, New Hampshire to Boston, Vermont, Toronto and back again. At nearly 600 pages, Last Night is being compared to Irving classics like The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany. But as with all pre-publication hype, the proof will be in the literary pudding.Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Oryx & Crake fans rejoice! Margaret Atwood triumphantly returns with The Year of the Flood, in which readers are once more catapulted into the smoking embers of a world that faintly echoes our own. After centuries of rampant moral and environmental exploitation, the Earth has been decimated--perhaps beyond repair--by a "waterless flood," one that comes in the form of a plague and leaves few survivors standing.
The Year of the Flood occurs in parallel with Oryx & Crake, meaning the two books can be read in any order. This time, we trace the fall of the human race through the eyes of two female narrators, Toby and Ren. When the flood hit, these two women were members of God's Gardeners, an organization focused on sustainability, its principles founded in early Christian scripture updated with a modern-day vegan twist. Through interwoven, retrospective narratives, Toby and Ren share how they each came to join the Gardeners, and how they witnessed the eventual crumble and collapse of civilization. Living as they do in a world where healthcare corporations are actively spreading disease so they can profit from providing the cures, prisoners are sentenced to Battle Royale-style death matches in which winners get their freedom, and losers are brutally slaughtered, and the only animals to walk the Earth are genetically engineered splices, it is only too easy to appreciate Atwood's indictment of our own 21st-century world.
At times this skewering can feel heavy-handed, as if the storytelling has taken a backseat to environmental and corporate whistle-blowing, but even so, no one can deny that Atwood's message remains chilling, timely and necessary. For all the portents of doom and destruction caused by our own hands, Atwood is at her very best when she is focusing on the human struggle to survive, despite the odds. Above all else, readers will be moved by Toby and Ren's story; in a strange land, these women feel like family. The Year of the Flood is sure to thrill fans of speculative fiction, while also converting an entirely new wave of Atwood devotees.
Stephenie Harrison writes from Nashville.
Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Never one to rest on her laurels, famed Canadian author Atwood redeems the word sequel with this brilliant return to the nightmarish future first envisioned in Oryx and Crake. Contrary to expectations, the waterless flood, a biological disaster predicted by a fringe religious group, actually arrives. In its wake, the survivors must rely on their wits to get by, all the while reflecting on what went wrong. Atwood wins major style points here for her framing device, the liturgical year of the God's Gardeners sect. Readers who enjoy suspense will also appreciate the story's shifting viewpoint and nonlinear time line, which result in the gradual revelation of key events and character relationships. Atwood's heroines seem uniformly grim and hollow, but one can hardly expect cheerfulness in the face of the apocalypse, and the hardships of their lives both pre- and postflood are moving and disturbing. VERDICT Another win for Atwood, this dystopian fantasy belongs in the hands of every highbrow sf aficionado and anyone else who claims to possess a social conscience. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/09.]--Leigh Anne Vrabel, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh[Page 62]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Reviewed by Marcel Theroux
In her 2002 speculative novel, Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood depicted a dystopic planet tumbling toward apocalypse. The world she envisaged was in the throes of catastrophic climate change, its wealthy inhabitants dwelling in sterile secure compounds, its poor ones in the dangerous "pleeblands" of decaying inner cities. Mass extinctions had taken place, while genetic experiments had populated the planet with strange new breeds of animal: liobams, Mo'Hairs, rakunks. At the end of the book, we left its central character, Jimmy, in the aftermath of a devastating man-made plague, as he wondered whether to befriend or attack a ragged band of strangers. The novel seemed complete, closing on a moment of suspense, as though Atwood was content simply to hint at the direction life would now take. In her profoundly imagined new book, The Year of the Flood, she revisits that same world and its catastrophe.
Like Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood begins just after the catastrophe and then tracks back in time over the corrupt and degenerate world that preceded it. But while the first novel focused on the privileged elite in the compounds and the morally bankrupt corporations, The Year of the Flood depicts more of the world of the pleebs, an edgy no-man's land inhabited by criminals, sex workers, dropouts and the few individuals who are trying to resist the grip of the corporations.
The novel centers on the lives of Ren and Toby, female members of a fundamentalist sect of Christian environmentalists, the God's Gardeners. Led by the charismatic Adam One, whose sermons and eco-hymns punctuate the narrative, the God's Gardeners are preparing for life after the prophesied Waterless Flood. Atwood plays some of their religion for laughs: their hymns have a comically bouncing, churchy rhythm, and we learn that both Ren and Toby have been drawn toward the sect for nonreligious reasons. Yet the gentleness and benignity of the Gardeners is a source of hope as well as humor. As absurd as some of their beliefs appear, Atwood seems to be suggesting that they're a better option than the naked materialism of the corporations.
This is a gutsy and expansive novel, rich with ideas and conceits, but overall it's more optimistic than Oryx and Crake. Its characters have a compassion and energy lacking in Jimmy, the wounded and floating lothario at the previous novel's center.
Each novel can be enjoyed independently of the other, but what's perhaps most impressive is the degree of connection between them. Together, they form halves of a single epic. Characters intersect. Plots overlap. Even the tiniest details tessellate into an intricate whole. In the final pages, we catch up with Jimmy once more, as he waits to encounter the strangers. This time around, Atwood commits herself to a dramatic and hopeful denouement that's in keeping with this novel's spirit of redemption.
Marcel Theroux's most recent novel, Far North, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in June.[Page 119]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.