by Jeff VanderMeer
This novel features main characters we know only as the Biologist, the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, and the Surveyor, although this is not General Science 101 at your local community college. Nor is this some Theater of the Absurd knockoff. Instead, they comprise the 12th expedition to visit a place called “Area X.” The first expedition thought the place was a natural paradise, but the second expedition committed mass suicide. The third shot and killed one another, etc., and the 11th all died of cancer when they returned. If this seems to you like the series Lost, you’re right. The setting is pristine, the mysteries acquire a low hum, and the events are wild and horrific. There’s even a “Tower” that tunnels deep into earth, where strange words are written. But whereas J.J. Abrams’s TV show didn’t know how to end, Annihilation has no such problem, although two more books in this trilogy are scheduled to come.
by Rabih Alameddine
An Unnecessary Woman has a lovely voice. It’s not urgent, it doesn’t scream for your attention, and it’s not very loud. It could be labeled unnecessary, and considering that it belongs to a 72-year-old woman who lives alone in an apartment in Beirut, the world has largely discarded her into the unnecessary pile. But Aaliya’s secret is that on the first day of every year, she starts a new translation of a literary classic into Arabic. When one is done, she hides it, never to be published, and she’s completed some 37 in her life. All of which makes her the perfect woman to sit you down and read to you Anna Karenina or Austerlitz, which is, in a way, what this wonderful little novel offers, as her life and thoughts give off a scent of what it is like to read the wonderful books of the world. Aaliya’s book club would be the best.
by Claire Kilroy
Who needs Sebastian Faulks to replace P.G. Wodehouse and write new Bertie and Wooster novels when you have Claire Kilroy’s The Devil I Know? Tristram St. Lawrence, the bumbling 13th Earl of Howth, who everyone thinks is dead, is something like the contemporary Bertie, being jerked around here and there, but at least he doesn’t think he’s brilliantly smart, nor does he have a trusted butler to get him out of trouble. He does land in trouble, time after time. His high-school buddy (or bully) Desmond Hickey persuades him to become his business partner in a shady construction project, and the book chronicles his descent into the silly scheme that at once reads like a classic Oscar Wilde conundrum as well as a timely skewering of the financial problems in Ireland and the British Isles. There’s no illusion that Tristram might be rescued by a Wooster, since the events are told as a transcript of Tristram’s testimony to an evidence-collecting committee, given over 10 days in March, 2016. Yes, this funny book is not only critical of the Irish boom—it might even be prescient.