In November, 2013, I was browsing the shelves of Brilliant Books in Traverse City, MI. There was a stand-alone shelf promoting the books from a single publisher – Europa Editions.
According to the company website, Europa Editions was founded in 2005 and has published books by authors from twenty-six different countries, making it a leading publisher of international fiction. I believe their most popular title is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by French novelist Muriel Barbery, having spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.
As I perused the shelf, one title caught my eye. A Novel Bookstore by French writer, Laurence Cossé. Usually, when I purchase a book, it is not the next book I read. However, while in Traverse City, I set aside the short story collection I was into after sampling the first chapter. Then the second. Then it became the oddity, violating my habit of reading it almost immediately after purchasing it.
A wealthy married woman meets a single bibliophile in Switzerland and they scheme the idea of The Good Novel Bookstore – a book store that stocks only good novels. The store’s inventory was selected from the list of the top 600 novels chosen by eight different writers/readers/book lovers. The eight formed a secret committee; no one outside the owners knew who they were. The store opens to rave reviews, and, simultaneously, harsh criticism.
The novel begins as a mystery, as three of the secret members of the committee experience threats to their physical well-being, with the aggressors signaling that they know about their involvement with The Good Novel Bookstore. The mystery drives the plot, and the real story is the awkward love triangle of Francesca, the wealthy woman in a dismal marriage; Ivan, the bookseller who feels unable to maintain love; and Anis, the much younger love interest of Ivan.
After enjoying this novel, I’ve sought other Europa Editions books. The next novel to catch my attention I found at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, titled The Angry Buddhist by American writer Seth Greenland.
The Angry Buddhist is a tale of the cold heart of American politics and the fiery heat of sex and anger. It’s almost election day, and Randy Duke’s re-election race against the attractive Mary Swain. But there is scandal to cover up regarding Randy’s wife, Kendra, who had an affair with their daughter’s tennis instructor, Nadine. Randy has other issues with his two brothers – Jimmy (the “angry Buddhist”) and Dale – that are both political assets and liabilities to his campaign. Dale is a felon released on parole (thanks to Randy’s influence) in time for the election. Jimmy was discharged from his employment with the police department after failing to put down a dog as ordered by Police Chief “Hard”. Hard is in Mary Swain’s camp, and no matter how much he fantasizes, she is beyond his reach. So he cheats on his wife, Vonda Jean, with, guess who, Nadine. Nadine ends up being murdered and Jimmy sticks his nose into the investigation and learns about his sister-in-law’s affair with the deceased.
I thought this was a well written, well conceived book. Though the “Angry Buddhist” was not the protagonist (there didn’t seem to be a major protagonist, but rather a group of characters with different and conflicting motives), Jimmy’s perspective and challenge with dealing with anger was interesting.
Recently, I finished reading You Deserve Nothing by American writer Alexander Maksik, which I found at Dawn Treader Used Books in Ann Arbor. This is a story about a teacher in Paris and two students, both of whom love him. One, Marie, is consumed with romantic and sexual love; the other, Gilead, is a young man who respects the man, viewing him as a role model. Though the ending was predictable, the way the author weaved the POV’s moved the story along nicely.
You may think readers simply follow specific authors. In this case, I have been impressed by the publisher and the authors and novels it publishes. As you can see by the stack in the photograph, I have many more Europa Editions to read. Each of these titles have interesting premises that have caught my attention, much like the three I’ve read thus far. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is high on my list, however I believe the next Europa Editions novels I want to read are the two by Diego De Silva; I Hadn’t Understood and My Mother-in-Law Drinks. They both feature Vincenzo Malinconico, who “is a wildly unsuccessful lawyer who spends most of his time at the office trying to look busy. His wife has left him. His teenage children worry him to death. And he suffers from a chronic inability to control his sentence structure.” With a blurb like that, how can I resist?
Then again, there’s The Thursday Night Men by Tonino Benacquista, about a group of men who meet in random locations in Paris every Thursday night at seven o’clock, to support each other on the issue that unites them: heartache with women.
Damn. So much savory goodness to choose from.