In short: Allegorizations; Owls; Invisible Ink reviews | Books


Jan Morris
Faber, £ 14.99, page 224

“By the time you read it, I’ll be gone!” Jan Morris said, making death look like a sleight of hand. She was writing in 2009, having decided that this collection of essays would be published posthumously, and its pages are indeed strewn with magic – the literary genre her quill brings to the scenes of her long traveling life. She remembers past travels and reflects on topics ranging from nationalism and the nagging nose to Diana, Princess of Wales and homemade marmalade (Morris enjoyed it with sausages). There’s playfulness here too: the book’s title stems from a belated belief that everything – “all the damn caboodle” – is allegory. It gives a clever and characterful coda to a singular career.

Claire Oshetsky
Virago, £ 14.99, pp256

This wildly imagined debut album presents a unique parable of maternal love. Her heroine is Tiny, a cellist convinced that she got pregnant not with her handsome husband but with her loving owl. Sure enough, when the baby is born, she is winged and fierce, alarming doctors. For the husband, Chouette is a project – something to fix, no matter how dangerous the remedy is. Tiny, meanwhile, loves her the way she is, going nocturnal and feeding her frozen mice so she can be authentic herself. Dark spirit, tenderness, music, enchantment – they are all part of a story that remains strangely tellable despite its dazzling strangeness.

Patrick Modiano (translated by Mark Polizotti)
Yale University Press, £ 12.99, pp176 (paperback)

The French Nobel Prize winner exploits familiar concerns to mesmerizing effect in his latest novel. It focuses on Jean Eyben, who in his twenties briefly worked as a private investigator in Paris tasked with finding a missing woman named Noëlle Lefebvre. His fate became an obsession and three decades later he resumed his research. The City of Light is wonderfully evoked, a metropolis dense with mystery and patterns, teeming with ghosts from its often deliberately forgotten past. Enticing hints that Lefebvre might be related in some way to Eyben help drive a gripping tale in which issues of aging and memory are central.

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