C Magazine

Winter Break Book Club

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A diverse collection of thrilling reads to enjoy during your winter break.

 

Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto”

Lulled not by its political purpose, but by the promise of an extraordinary performance, Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” recounts the unforgettable story of Japanese electronics mogul Katsumi Hosokawa, who finds himself held hostage at his own birthday celebration. During the pinnacle of the evening, on the final note of the sixth aria of an opera performance, the prominent gathering of international figures find themselves resting in fear on the cold floor, as terrorists have invaded the building. Defeated on the original intent of capturing the president of a Latin American country, the terrorists are left with a loose plan: releasing only the women and disabled, and keeping famed soprano singer Roxanne Cox as an alternative token of interest.

As days move forward, the importance of anything outside the walls of the vice president’s’ home recedes and with it the borders between hostage and terrorist, foreigner and foreigner. Becoming an unlikely self-dependent community, the individuals settle into the company of one another, communicating across various languages and united by the token captive’s alluring voice. Romance develops, including between Cox and the ultimate opera connoisseur, Hosokawa, and characters build upon one another, stripped of the life that awaits them at home. The plight transforms from one of danger to one characterized by fear of loss; the individuals all soon desire anything but escape, for this life has somewhat become an oasis for love and a greater respect of one another’s’ humanity. Recently developed into a movie, the reader will find themselves wanting to retreat back into the pages of the original novel filled with greater nuance, lust and passion.

 

A.J. Finn’s “The Woman in the Window”

“It’s not paranoia if it is actually happening.”

This psychological thriller follows the life of Anna Fox, an agoraphobe who has not left her house for almost a year. Since her fear prevents her from leaving her house, she finds entertainment in  watching her neighbors from the windows of her home, reading the same books as her neighbor’s book club or intently watching her neighbor lead her contractor to her bedroom. When a new family, the Russels, moves in, she is immediately drawn to watching them and understanding their background. One night, while flushing her medication down with multiple bottles of wine, she sees something she shouldn’t. However, when she reports what she saw to the police, she is told that what she saw was just paranoia or a side effect of the empty wine bottle sprawled across her coffee table. Frustrated by the lack of action from the police, Anna decides to take matters into her own hands to try and figure out the truth behind what she saw.

The gripping clues that are revealed throughout the novel produce hints regarding what actually occurred and whether or not Anna was just imagining it. As secrets are revealed and pasts are brought into the present, the story of November fourth has endless layers that will keep the pages turning. Pulling you into this world of mystery, “The Woman in the Window” consists of many smaller stories that all tie into one, keeping you entranced by the words in front of you.

 

Joe Simpson’s “Touching the Void”

Winds are howling at speeds upwards of 80 mph, temperatures have plummeted below freezing and snow is falling so thickly that it is impossible to see more than a couple feet in any direction.

This horrifying tale of two expert mountaineers’ perilous journey up the unclimbed west side of Sulia Grande in the Peruvian Andes would be captivating as told by any author. In his book, “Touching the Void,” amateur climber Joe Simpson describes first hand his harrowing near-death experience. The gripping account of Simpson and his partner Simon Yates achieving the impossible against all odds is a well-written representation of the power of human will and the ways in which our bodies are capable of much more than what our minds initially believe. In this mountain range, reaching the summit of Sulia Grande is only half the journey. On their way down from the 20,000 ft peak, the pair find themselves in a life or death situation, and Simpson is left behind. The detail with which Simpson describes this event is only plausible coming from the person who lived through it in reality. Through deep crevasses, merciless winds and bitter cold, “Touching the Void” makes for a bone-chilling winter read that will keep you on the edge of your cozy armchair by the fire.

 

Claire Fuller’s “Bitter Orange”

Like a bitter orange succumbing to its internal acidic juices, Frances Jellico finds herself surrendering to her memory; it works to erode her mind as she lays dying in a hospital bed.

Her most destructive memories are derived from the summer of 1969, when Jellico, recently freed by the death of her oppressive mother, accepts an assignment as an architectural surveyor.

In this psychological thriller, novelist Claire Fuller initially provides the audience with a beautiful, summery backdrop formulated by an effective use of prose — a country house in rural England and later offers readers a magnifying glass formed by descriptive language that allows them to further delve into the decaying nature of the home and its occupants.

The additional temporary residents include Cara and Peter, a couple hired to assess the internal state of the home. As the summer continues, the trio becomes close, and when Jellico discovers a hidden peephole that allows her to spy on the lovers, she yields to the pervasive nature of curiosity and becomes entangled in the diverging secrets that are shared in conversation and through the peephole.

Joining the numerous thrillers that use an unreliable narrator as a mode to communicate the concept of infatuation, “Bitter Orange” excels in its examination of central themes that prove to be essential components of the human experience. The confrontational nature of the language juxtaposed with the seamless storyline leaves intangible traces of skepticism and mystery that the readers rapidly consume and apply to their intrinsic human experiences, leaving them to question their conscience. 

As Fuller explains, “[Cara and Peter are] beautiful on the surface, but look a little closer and everything is decaying, rotting, falling apart,” — a statement that readers will consider accurately expressed within society as they begin to understand the profound symbol that is a bitter orange.