Nearing eighty and ready to simplify things, Henry Dunbar, legendary titan of a global communications empire, cedes day-to-day control of his firm to his daughters, while insisting on retaining the corporate jet, the obsequious obedience of underlings, and other trappings of power. For once in his ruthless career, Dunbar has miscalculated. He soon finds himself drugged and virtually imprisoned in a Manchester sanitarium while his daughters set in motion a complicated deal that will net each of them roughly $1.4 billion. Yes, Dunbar (Hogarth, $25) is King Lear in Wall Street clothing. Edward St. Aubyn, author of the devastatingly dark and funny Melrose novels, joins the Hogarth Shakespeare series with a retelling of the great tragedy as social satire. St. Aubyn has a sure touch for depicting human depravity and he’s unsparing in tracking the Dunbars’ relentless quest for money and power. The two elder daughters, accomplished bullies in grade school, outdo even their father at lying, back-stabbing, and casual acts of torture. By contrast, their half-sister Florence has rejected a role in the family business, becoming instead an advocate for workers’ rights and environmental concerns. Her unwavering “enough” serves finally as a moral compass for her father who, after recovering from the forced hospitalization, the nights on the lam in the stormy Cumbrian wilds, the after-effects of an arsenal of drugs, and the terrifying visions of “all the people he had hurt…turning their wounds into weapons” against him, slowly comes to understand that “enough” and can let go of his mad pursuits.
Golden Hill (Scribner, $26), winner of the Costa Award, is the first novel by Francis Spufford, author of I May Be Some Time and other acclaimed narrative nonfictions. The year is 1746. Mr. Smith, a young, charming, and mysterious stranger from England, arrives at Lovell’s house on New York’s Golden Hill with a bill of exchange for the breathtaking sum of 1,000 pounds. That alone, aside from Smith’s refusal to disclose anything about himself—where he’s come from and what he’s planning to do with that kind of money in the colonies—creates an aura of mystery and intrigue. As rumors begin to circulate, you’re pulled into the story, eager for answers, along with Manhattan’s social elite. Finding an ally and a friend in the marvelous Septimus Oakeshott, secretary to the governor, Mr. Smith inveigles his way into that elite, attending their dinner parties and becoming a part of their lives. He even develops an interest in one of Lovell’s daughters, the quick-witted and sharp-tongued Tabatha. But then things start to fall apart, and he finds himself in trouble. Quick paced, with extraordinary dialog and well-crafted characters, Spufford’s brilliant historical novel will make you turn the pages fast to find out what Mr. Smith is up to. The beauty of this novel is that you won’t find out until the very final pages.
In Outline Rachel Cusk ingeniously introduced a narrator who left most of the first person out of the first-person narration. Each chapter was a conversation transcribed in detail, but eliding the narrator’s contributions. We glimpsed Faye in the interstices of what others said to her, and, implicitly, in what she chose to relate. We learned she was a writer, recently divorced, the mother of two sons. In Transit (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26), the even more mesmerizing second volume of a projected trilogy, Faye is renovating a run-down house in London, teaching, still adjusting to being divorced, and still gathering stories. But many of these stories, when filtered through Faye’s consciousness, acquire an edgy tone. Some turn oddly violent as if Faye is a kind of poltergeist, channeling her inner turmoil and anger outward. Her neighbors get confrontational. Children at a dinner party end up in tears. A visit to a hair salon ends in a customer storming out, shattering glass as he goes. It’s an explosive, amazing, and deeply resonant novel. Look for the final installment, Kudos, soon!