Silverview – John Le Carre

This is Le Carre’s 26th and final novel; he died on 2020-12-12. The story is a reflection on the disillusionment of spies in a fragmented intelligence service. As always, the prose is elegant: “the Avon clan .. was united, not in the secrets they shared, but in the secrets they kept from one another”. Overall, an insightful glimpse into the lonely, secret world of spies by a masterful author.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections – Eva Jurczyk

A rare book collection at a University Library become a vehicle for prestige, resulting in cut-throat politics in academia. And when a rare book goes missing, the plot thickens to become an intriguing mystery. The politics of gender, academic rivalries, suspicions, and the uncomfortable relationship with donors are all described perfectly.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry – Fredrik Backman

Elsa is a precocious almost 8-year-old who is perceived as different and thus bullied at school. Thankfully, she has a very close relationship with her 77-year-old grandmother who tells her mythical stories about the Land-of-Almost-Awake. When Elsa’s grandmother dies, Elsa receives a series of apology letters that she is directed to deliver, and so Elsa learns about her grandmother’s incredible back story. This is a brilliant book about life and death, with inspired comic moments and deeply sentimental sad situations, so both laughs and tears abound.

The Man Who Died Twice – Richard Osman

Another delightful Thursday Murder Club mystery: Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim investigate missing diamonds and then several murders. As before, this is a warm and clever story, in large part about friendships. It is also deeply philosophical about aging – a real pleasure to read.

Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney

Ms. Rooney’s new book is about four 30-year-olds: Alice and Eileen, Simon and Felix. Although older than the teenagers in Normal People, these adults are no more successful in their relationships. Despite deep friendships and yes, love, they can be frustratingly emotionally distant, deflecting a question with a question as the rejoinder. Overall, a fabulous examination of the modern world. Desire is complicated with delusion; perceptions of happiness are clouded by anxiety and uncertainty. A brilliant book – highly recommended.

What Strange Paradise – Omar El Akkad

A Giller short-listed book about Amir, a 9-year-old Syrian refugee, the sole survivor of a shipwreck who is washed up on a Greek Island. He evades capture by local authorities and is rescued by Vanna, a 15-year-old resident of the island. What follows is a strange and dangerous odyssey by two children who do not speak a common language. They are pursued by Colonel Kethros, an implacable authority figure (think Javert). The writing is exceptional, describing both hope and despair, empathy and indifference.

Find You First – Linwood Barclay

Miles Cookson is a tech billionaire who at age 42 receives the devastating diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease. This prompts a search for 9 children he “fathered” as a sperm donor 20 years previously. But these potential heirs are disappearing without a trace! This is vintage Barclay with impossible-to-predict plot twists: very entertaining.

Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro has been recognized as a great writer by receiving the Nobel Prize for literature. This new book is simply brilliant, in part because of a unique point-of-view. The narrator Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF, aka robot), with acute powers of observing and learning. She is acquired by Josie and must learn about friendship and the nuances of human behaviour: love, loneliness, sacrifice, what it means to be human. Klara is an AF/AI with empathy, to serve as a companion, to prevent Josie’s loneliness. Empathy is not achieved by programming but rather by machine learning. Overall, this is a compelling story about relationships; Klara has a special relationship with the sun (she is solar powered) which she logically tries to apply to humans. And typically (recall Never Let Me Go), Ishiguro introduces a single word in the text that is not explained for 200 pages, creating a mystery. Fantastic book, highly recommended. Finally, this is a very nice companion book to Machines Like Us by Ian McEwan.