Havisham -- A Novel by Ronald Frame, Picador '13, $26, 357 pages, ASIN #1250037271.
Fans of Charles Dickens will recall Catherine Havisham, the heroine of Great Expectations, and in the words of that book's author, "a young woman with all her dreams ahead of her." In his latest book, novelist Ronald Frame creates an "astonishing prelude" to Great Expectations.
Foreshadowing the action that will follow is Frame's Prologue:
"Four loud blows on the front door.
"I stood waiting at the foot of the staircase as the door was opened.
"The light from the candles fell upon their faces. Mr. Jaggers's, large and London-pale and mapped with a blue afternoon beard. A nursemaid's, pink with excitement after listening on the journey down to Mr. Jaggers's discreet account of me -- my wealth, my eccentric mode of life, my famous pride and prickliness.
"And the third face. The child's. She was standing a few paces behind the nursemaid; she was keeping back, but leaned over sharply to see between the two adults. She looked forward, into the house, across the hall's black and white floor tiles.
"When she was brought inside, I studied her, from my vantage-point on the second tread. Her complexion was a little tawny, as I had been led to expect. She had raven hair, which was more of the gypsy in her, but her eyes were blue, from the English father.
"Blue, silvery-blue, and wide open, staring up at me. At where I stood, wearing the wedding dress I should have been married in.
"I lifted my hand from the banister rail and moved to the step beneath.
"Immediately the child turned away. She raised her shoulder as if to protect herself, and hid behind the nursemaid's skirts. The woman smiled a nervous apology.
"I retreated, one step up, then another.
"Too much light," I said. "That's all.
"The child's eyes rested on my bride's slippers. White satin originally, but soiled after these many months of wear.
"'The light dazzles her,' I said. 'She will adjust. She only needs to get her bearings.'"
Ronald Frame was born and educated in Glasgow, Scotland and at Oxford University. He is also a dramatist and winner of the Samuel Beckett Award. He lives outside Glasgow.
The Aftermath -- A Novel by Rhidian Brook, Knopf '13, $25.95, 267 pages, ASIN #0307958264.
In the words of the British Literary Review, "Brook's excellent novel (is) a capivating tale not only of love among the ruins (of World War II Hamburg) but also of treachery and vengeance....It does what all good novels should do: it poses many complex questions and resists neat, topped-and-tailed answers."
From the dust jacket of The Aftermath:
"While thousands wander the rubble, lost and homeless, Colonel Lewis Morgan, charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the denazification of its defeated peoiple, is stationed in a grand house on the River Elbe. He is awaiting the arrival of his wife, Rachael -- still grieving for their eldest son -- and their only surviving son, Edmund.
"But rather than force the owners of the house, a German widower and his rebellious daughter, out on the streets, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged atmosphere, both parents and children will be forced to confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal, to their deepest desires, their fiercest loyalties, and the transforming power of forgiveness.
"This courageous new novel from award-winning author Rhidian Brook tells an emotionally riveting story of two families, one house, and love grown from hate."
Rhidian Brook has written fiction, TV, and film, beginning with his debut novel, The Testimony of Taliesin Jones, which won the Somerset Maugham Award. His stories have appeared in The Paris Review and New Statesman. He lives in London with his wife and two children.