Set in Athlone, Ireland, in the 1850s, Emma Donoghue’s suspenseful ninth novel features superb pacing, vivid historical details, small-town secrets, and questions of faith framed as life-and-death matters. The protagonist is Lib, a London nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, who comes to the village fresh from the Crimean War. She is charged with discovering the truth about Anna, an eleven-year-old who has fasted for four months, with no apparent ill effects. Can the girl really be sustained by the love of God alone? As tourists and pilgrims flock to see The Wonder (Little, Brown, $27), Lib and a local nun keep watch around the clock; Lib, at least, is sure that someone is secretly passing food to Anna. Her partner sees things differently, and as the tension between them rises, Anna’s health does indeed start to suffer. But little by little Anna confides in Lib, and as Lib comes to understand what’s really going on, she both revises her notions of the Irish and fears she must commit murder in order to save Anna. The final outcome of the case—which is based on actual events—is as startling startling as it is unforgettable.
Ten years after Sylvia Beach had to close her legendary Paris bookshop, another American ex-patriate, George Whitman, opened Le Librairie Mistral in a tumble-down 16th-century building on the rue de la Bûcherie. When Beach passed away in 1964, he renamed his “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore” in her honor. Now run by his daughter and celebrating its 65th anniversary, the place has hosted tens of thousands of writers and, since these literary guests—aka Tumbleweeds—were welcome to stay indefinitely if they did a few hours of work for the store, read a book a day, and left a note, has almost as many stories to tell. Shakespeare and Company, Paris (DAP, $34.95) tells these stories decade by decade in rich collages of photos, poems, letters, and more. A book made for browsing, this volume recounts the store’s own life and times as well as inaugurating its new English-language publishing venture, headed by Krista Halverson. A former managing editor of Zoetrope: All-Story, Halverson guided the magazine’s art direction and worked with guest designers, experience she’s put to excellent use as editor of this sumptuous album of pictures and spirited anthology of testimonials left by writers ranging from James Baldwin to Ray Bradbury, Allen Ginsberg to A.M. Homes.
Alice Hoffman continually delivers an engaging read and her latest novel does not let us down. Though devoid of her usual touch of the fantastic, Faithful still upholds wonder in the world, even in the face of tragedy. After a terrible accident on a snow night determines the fate of two teenage girls: Helene in a catatonic state she may never come out of and Shelby, who was driving, must find a way out of the destructive hole despair and guilt has her digging deeper. As she navigates a stint in the psychiatric hospital, additional trauma, forays into relationships both romantic and friendly, you root for this young character the entire way.