Books: Summer Reads, part 2

photoAfter a grumpy slog through an overly long immigrant saga, I wanted a fun, smart full-bodied read. I picked up Sadie Jones Fallout from my stacks, for its cheerful colors and in-love couple on the cover. I was not disappointed.

This is a layered love story, completely engaging, of young adults making their way in early 1970’s London theater.

Jones’ characters are likable from the start. We meet Luke as a boy, breaking his mother free from the insane asylum where she lives. They go for a day trip to London, to the National Gallery. It doesn’t go well, of course, but the sentiment — the planning and execution, by a boy — is sweet and memorable.

UnknownAlso at the museum is Nina, touring the galleries with her self-absorbed mother. When Nina is fobbed off on her aunt, a sensible caretaker, we understand her shriek: no child wants to parted from their mother, even one who’s monstrous.

How Luke and Nina come together as adults is complicated and intriguing. Luke is a promising playwright, Nina is bright young actress — but she’s married to Tony Moore, a prominent theater producer. Luke’s colleagues and roommates, Paul and Leigh, also figure in the story.

Cruelty, betrayal, disappointment: it’s a rollicking, sexy read — until its end, which seemed not believable and forced. I liked Fallout so much I ordered some of Jones’ earlier novels. I’ll let you know.

Another good read: Georges Simenon’s The Strangers in the House (Inconnus dans la Maison) from 1940, re-released by New York Review of Books Classics.

Unknown-2Simenon is best known for the Maigret detective novels. This is different, a psychological novel, a romans durs.

Set in Moulins, an ancient city in central France, Simenon gives us reclusive attorney Hector Loursat, who removed himself from society when his wife abandoned him and their small daughter Nicole. Loursat drinks and eats to excess and though he dines with the now adult Nicole, they don’t converse, they have no relationship.

One night, Loursat hears a commotion in a wing of his vast home. There he finds a man in bed, shot, newly dead. Also a young man fleeing, and his deshabille daughter.

Who is the dead man, and why is his daughter unperturbed?

Necessarily involved in the case, Loursat comes back to life: he dresses well and drinks less. He walks the streets, he visits bars and restaurants, he creates a kind of relationship with Nicole, who gathers evidence for the trial.

Simenon’s great talent is to bring a reader into a room, onto a street, into the courthouse. You are there. Simenon wrote 200 novels and in this we see a master at work: beautiful prose, compelling plot, an unexpectedly happy ending.

Make no mistake: Loursat has changed, but he’s still an odd duck living a peculiar life.

A satisfying read.

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