by Amity Gaige
Faber & Faber
Schroder is my favourite novel of 2013 so far. Narrated by the titular Eric Schroder, it is a slippery, intelligent and gripping narrative about split identities, paternal love, parental abduction and marital breakdown. Having escaped East Berlin with his father, Eric arrives in the US an outsider. He creates a new identity, inspired by one of his adopted nation's most famous sons: John F. Kennedy. Schroder-Kennedy falls in love with Laura, marries and has a daughter, Meadow, before his American dream turns into a nightmare. His next, desperate act is to abscond with Meadow on a road trip that sends the nation into a hate-fuelled frenzy, and Schroder to jail. There he writes a letter to Laura which is by turns self-justifying and a genuine explanation of his actions: it is a moving declaration of love, for a lost wife and a damaged daughter. This variety pays tribute to the nuanced power of Gaige's prose, which skips from comedy to lyricism to coruscating emotional revelation. A wonderful novel about the fictions we tell ourselves every day.
The Last Runaway
by Tracy Chevalier
(read by Laurel Lefkow)
The Last Runaway is narrated by Honor Bright, a young Quaker who, as the action starts, leaves England for a new life in America. Hardship strikes early: her sister dies on the sea voyage, leaving Honor in a quandary: women in 1850 America don't live by themselves. So she meets up with her sister's fiancé, Donovan, and heads to Ohio. Their mutual attraction is apparent - but Honor winds up with Jack Haymaker. She is soon pregnant and in danger: Honor helps slaves escape but Donovan is a slave hunter. She finds an ally in Belle, Donovan's step-sister, who shares her sense of right and righteousness. It is a complex meditation on slavery and the many attitudes to it. Tracy Chevalier knows how to spin a yarn, and ably mixes tension with strong characters. She is helped by Laurel Lefkow, whose strong, intelligent, compassionate voice seems created for Honor. Her accents, both American and English, are believable, and her pacing of the narrative - from contemplation to Honor and Belle's dramatic slave rescues - a complete success.
The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
by Liz Jensen
(read by Gerard Doyle, Jeff Woodman)
New to audiobook download, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is whimsical, a little mysterious and a touch surreal. It employs an unusual psychological or medical state as an imaginative device: in this case, a young boy falls into a lucid coma. The setback (Louis falls down a ravine near the French town of Auvergne) proves a story-telling boon. Louis has a sort of total recall about his life and a mind in perpetual motion. Starting with his birth (which was "gross"), he outlines his obsessions and fears. Uncertain whether we are always in Louis' head or not, we then meet Dr Pascal Dannachet, a coma specialist who is trying to discover what is wrong with the boy. The fragmented tale is a little confusing on audiobook - but then I suspect this is part of Jensen's point. Gerard Doyle reads Louis with a wide-eyed (pun intended) innocence that evokes the strangeness of his inner life, and Jeff Woodman reads Dannachet's self-delusions with calm authority. This is a strange, hallucinatory tale.