> Novel Encounters
A Cornucopia of Fall Fiction: 9 Great October Reads
From Some of Our Favourite Writers / BY Nathalie Atkinson
As the season turns crisp and October arrives with its dark and stormy nights, our escapist, engrossing and inspiring picks for the reading month ahead are just the thing to curl up with.
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(Oct. 2) The Booker Prize-winning Irish author has shed his crime-writing alter ego Benjamin Black to pen a stand-alone whodunit in his own name. The contrarian sets the scene with a plot device he famously deplores: the body in the library, complete with nearby candlestick. As his unlikely posh detective attempts to unravel why a Catholic priest has been found mutilated and murdered in the mansion of one of the county’s few remaining Protestant families, Banville takes the opportunity to explore the religious tensions of the era. He also brings his considerable descriptive powers (and irreverence) to the rural Ireland of 1957 – with tweaks to Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey along the way.
2>Leave the World Behind
(Oct. 6) As smart as it is suspenseful, Alam plumbs the tensions (and assumptions) of race and class in an increasingly claustrophobic crisis situation where everyone is desperate for reliable information. It’s not the pandemic, but close enough. The setup is that a middle-class white family books a week at an isolated rental on Long Island to get away from it all and spend time with their teenage kids. The idyll is interrupted when an older Black couple arrives in the middle of the night, claiming it’s their house and they need shelter because there’s a sudden blackout back in New York. Is it the beginning of the end? Cellular service it out and so is the internet. Or is it? Bonus points (and bragging rights) for finding out before it hits Netflix: the streaming giant just won an expensive bidding war for the thriller, and their adaptation will reunite Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington for the first time since The Pelican Brief.
(Oct. 6) Admit it: you watch the film Practical Magic every October. (That kitchen! It gives even Nancy Meyer a run for her money!) In this prequel to her luminous 1995 bestseller, Hoffman traces the original curse of the Owens women by conjuring the origin story of family matriarch Maria Owens in 17th century England. Orphaned at birth, her descendants will eventually include the sisters played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman in the beloved movie adaptation, but first she must come into her powers and learn the tricks of her trade. The journey takes her through herbal cures in England and folk magic in the Caribbean to Salem, Mass., and offers insight into how society treats witches, those rare female mythic figures who actually have power in a man’s world.
4>The Devil and the Dark Water
(Oct. 6) Journalist Turton’s award-winning debut The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle twisted the traditional country house cozy inside out through a time loop worthy of Groundhog Day. His follow-up is a literary whodunit on the high seas and likewise tweaks Sherlockian conventions. Renowned criminal detective Samuel Pipps and his assistant are aboard the galleon Saardam in 1634 as it makes the months-long voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam. Sure to delight history buffs, the workings of the Dutch East India Company and the twin forces of capitalism and colonialism are at the heart of this ingenious maritime caper.
5>The Wrong Kind of Woman
(Oct. 13) Pop culture has looked back on the early years and famous names of second-wave feminism with projects like Mrs. America and The Glorias, but this historical novel set at an elite New England college instead focuses on the pioneering everywomen of the movement. After the unexpected death of her husband, Virginia continues to work at the men’s college where they both used to teach, while navigating life as a single parent and the rising antiwar sentiment and feminist crusading on campus. She falls in with the ‘Gang of Four,’ as the few unmarried women on faculty are known, and the story is told in their alternating voices (including coming-of-age musings from the perspective of Virginia’s teenage daughter, who is both bewildered and inspired by her mother’s new direction). It promises a multi-faceted view of the fight for equality.
6>The Blind Light
(Oct. 13) Stories about longtime friends are not rare but novels about enduring male friendships tend to be scarcer. Evers offers a look at the consequences of the secret pact made between two young English soldiers when they become friends in 1959 while working at a civil defense training base. One is working-class Essex, the other an upper-classman from the north. The decades-spanning novel charts the trajectories of both families through to the terrorist bombings of the early aughts, at the same time exploring the social history of the English through successive generations, where the shadow of the Cold War and the very real fear of nuclear destruction have loomed large.
7>Shelter in Place
(Oct. 13) This satire, which kicks off in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 American election, is about a circle of privileged friends in Connecticut. Told mostly through conversations in set-piece vignettes, it follows the different responses of these wealthy New Yorkers who are concerned with keeping up appearances (and their second homes). In the current political climate you’d think we’d have reached saturation point on reading more that makes you want to eat the rich, but Leavitt’s pitch-perfect ear for their dialogue and tone-deaf preoccupations transforms a novel about the shallow, self-absorbed and almost thoroughly unlikable elite into a thoroughly entertaining read.
8>Plain Bad Heroines
(Oct. 20) The spooky story begins at the turn of the last century, at a girl’s school where a group of students form a secret club and develop intense friendships and romantic relationships until a series of gruesome unexplained deaths occur that close the school for good. Fast-forward 100 years (and several crisscrossing timelines), when a book about the school’s eerie history is being made into a movie – and shot on location. The conceit gives Danforth (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) the perfect opportunity for meta-fiction. Just how gothic is this queer horror tale? It’s blurbed by none other than doyenne Sarah Waters.
9>The Forgotten Daughter
(Oct. 27) In her bestseller The Home for Unwanted Girls, Goodman tackled a dark chapter in Quebec history: the infamous case of the Duplessis orphans. In the 1950s, thousands of Canadian children were falsely reclassified as mentally ill and arbitrarily confined to abusive Catholic-run orphanages by the provincial authorities, in order to qualify for more federal funding. The shameful legacy resurfaces in her new novel in the form of Elodie, who is reliving past trauma as she and a group of other Duplessis orphans fight for justice and reparations. It’s set in 1992 during the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, and the battle for Quebec sovereignty rages. Véronique Fortin, daughter of a notorious radical Quebec separatist, falls for Elodie’s younger brother (a staunch federalist) but ends up forming a closer bond with his sister. Their friendship explores the country’s recent past and whether you can ever truly outrun your own.