I’ve been a fan of Patricia Highsmith for a long time, but somehow I’d managed to skip Strangers on a Train. This year I finally got around to it, and unsurprisingly, it’s wonderful. When up-and-coming young architect Guy happens to meet directionless rich boy Charles Bruno on a train, the encounter sets in motion a series of events that will take over both their lives. The terrible pressure Bruno puts on Guy, and the way Guy’s mind twists and disintegrates under that pressure, make the book an incredible study of psychological torture and how fine the membrane is between normality and the underlying darkness.
I love Shakespeare, I’m fascinated by Elizabethan England, and I love small everyday objects from the past, so Shakespeare’s Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects by Neil MacGregor has it all; he does a lovely job of using quirky, often mundane objects as windows into that world. A brass-handled iron fork found in the Rose Theatre leads into an exploration of what a day at the theatre was like in Shakespeare’s time; a rapier and dagger illuminate the urban violence that was widespread; an apprentice’s cap becomes a springboard for insights into social hierarchy and unrest. Anyone who’s interested in Elizabethan England should have this book.
I also loved Lauren Owen’s The Quick, which is a great debut novel set in a darkly tangled version of Victorian London. A lot of the reviews spoiled the surprise twist that comes about 100 pages in, but I got a sneak early read, so I had no idea, and I practically dropped the book when I got to that moment. You think you’re reading an atmospheric coming-of-age story — until, all of a sudden, the ground falls out from under you and you land in a much more intricate and more sinister world. Owen manages to explore familiar territory and give it whole new levels of emotional depth and poignancy.
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