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Is This Book Worth Getting?

A no-frills guide to the just-published fiction shelf.

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1.

The Book of Dave

by Will Self, Bloomsbury; 416 pages; $24.95
The apocalypse that created the world in Self’s new novel somehow incinerated all the Shakespeare and the Tolstoy and the Bible, leaving only the angry scrawlings of a divorced London cabdriver named Dave upon which to build a new culture. Dave’s ruined life is worshipped and codified—bitterness as religion. Men and women live apart. Children’s weeks are divided into mummytime and daddytime, and young women are known as Opares. The Book of Dave can be hard going. The language Self invents takes off from bangers-and-mash quaintness into near incomprehensibility, with jarring phonetic spellings and a whole goofball nomenclature. The Milky Way is the dashboard; the sun is the foglamp… It sounds as though it could devolve into inanity (in fact, the religion is known as Davinanity), but Self somehow breathes life into it. It’s grim and compelling—a world to get lost in. That is, if we’re not lost already.
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2.

The View From Castle Rock

by Alice Munro, Knopf; 368 pages; $25.95
Munro, the Canadian short-story master, has said this will be her last book, but we can at least mitigate our sadness at such news by reading it. Here she looks far back into her family history—the Scots who bundled onto a ship bound for Quebec, a good voyage in which only three passengers died—and more closely at her own. But as she emphasizes, “These are stories.” Characters from life take on made-up lives of their own. “One of them got himself electrocuted and another fired off a gun in a barn full of horses.” The result, a mix of research and reinvention, is neither novel nor memoir, and not exactly short stories. But it’s most accurate to the way in which we remember the events and people and ancestors who tumble around in our heads.
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3.

One Good Turn

by Kate Atkinson, Little, Brown; 432 pages; $24.99
Atkinson is a gifted narrative stylist who sets this dark, labyrinthine crime story in the dark, labyrinthine streets of Edinburgh—a fine match. But after a violent, riveting first chapter, she proceeds to lose us in a fog of extraneous detail and backstories. And she earns extra demerits by making one of her central characters, yes, a crime novelist. Atkinson does pull her plot back on the rails eventually, and on style and pure imagination, she easily outclasses Edinburgh’s reigning king of crime fiction, Ian Rankin. But initiates would be well advised to read her previous masterstroke, Case Histories (Stephen King called it the best mystery novel of the decade), and then, if hooked, come back for this one.
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4.

Redemption

by Frederick Turner, Harcourt; 348 pages; $24
An ex-cop who suffered a humiliating early retirement from the New Orleans police force after being shot in the buttocks—his nickname remains Fast-Mail, but he sprints no more—Francis Muldoon traded in a relatively corrupt employer for an entirely immoral one: the red-light overlord of the District. It’s now 1913, and Muldoon finds himself caught in a looming gangland war and dangerously enamored of a woman who was once his boss’s far-too-beloved stepdaughter. Occasionally a whiff of The Big Cheesy breezes through this book, but in his portrait of a neighborhood, Turner excels at capturing, and inducing, a kind of skittery claustrophobia. When the prostitutes toss the contents of their washbasins onto the street—“a gummy mud that stuck to your soles like sin itself”—you’ll want to leap out of the way.
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5.

Amazing Disgrace

by James Hamilton-Paterson, Europa; 320 pages; $14.95 (paperback original)
Gerald Samper, the “niche creature par excellence” who narrates this novel, has forsaken the rabble of England for a house high on a Tuscan hill, where he ghostwrites the zippy memoirs of sports heroes, suffers hilarious mishaps, and whips up exotic recipes included in the book. (Badger Wellington, anyone?) The casual bookstore browser might mistake this sequel to Hamilton-Paterson’s Cooking With Fernet Branca for a Peter Mayle–style romp or a diet primer explaining why Tuscans don’t have to exercise. In fact, it’s a jet-black parody of all of the above. Samper’s targets—especially a one-armed female champion yachter turned sea-cult guru—are a touch too grotesque to serve as recognizable satire. But it’s loads of fun, light and dazzling as a peacock feather.
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6.

The Godfather’s Revenge

by Mark Winegardner, Putnam; 496 pages; $25.95
You can excuse a lot about The Godfather’s Revenge. So what if the handsome, Irish, womanizing president, whose kid-brother attorney general is taking on the mob even though his father was a bootlegger, has been renamed “Jimmy Shea”? (If you’re going to write about the Kennedys, why bother to call them something else?) And who cares about the (several) two-page riffs on the evils of Robert Moses, suggesting nothing so much as the author’s recent reading of The Power Broker? But the one unforgivable crime? Fredo, in a flashback dream sequence, speaks in complex sentences studded with clauses like “Contrary to what you may think.” I don’t care how smaaaart Fredo thinks he is; we’ve all seen the DVD too many times to accept that. Take the cannoli; leave the book.
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