Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale. (Bloomsbury) In “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher” (2008), Summerscale used a sensational English murder case to provide insight into mid-19th-century domestic life and the rise of detective novels. Now she uses one of Victorian England’s most controversial divorce cases – centered on the diary entries of a deeply unhappy wife – to pry open a culture clinging to rigid ideas about sanity, the institution of marriage and female sexuality.
Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $18.) Wolfe, who has captured the milieus of 1980s New York (“The Bonfire of the Vanities”) and 1990s Atlanta (“A Man in Full”), turns to Miami with a sweeping novel that observes the gaudy clash of that city’s different ethnic and financial populations. Tangled up in the myriad plotlines is Nestor Camacho, an overbuilt, well-meaning Cuban-American cop.
The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir by Claude Lanzmann. Translated by Frank Wynne. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) With passion and candor, the French writer and filmmaker recalls a full, multifaceted life: a teenage member of the wartime Resistance; a friend to Jean-Paul Sartre and a lover to Simone de Beauvoir; and the director of “Shoah,” a 9 1/2-hour masterwork about the German death camps in Poland.
Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville. (Grove Press) In this wrenching conclusion to Grenville’s tough-hearted trilogy about the colonizing of Australia, the youngest daughter of William Thornhill – an ex-convict from London who has built his fortune on the blood of the Aborigines – fights to create an identity of her own in a stratified society.
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. (Vintage) This absorbing natural history draws from a wealth of clinical cases, famous historical examples and personal experiences – including the author’s experiments with LSD. Sacks covers a broad range of sensory disturbances (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile), illuminating the complexities of the human brain.
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. (Anchor) Set in the early 1970s against a backdrop of IRA bombings and Cold War anxiety, McEwan’s beguiling novel concerns a callow MI5 recruit, Serena Frome, and an undercover operation aimed at cultivating anti-Communist, pro-West authors. Infiltrating a literary circle, Serena becomes smitten with a promising writer and must negotiate her divided loyalties.
500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald. (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) From a prison cell in Syria to the nightclub bombing in Bali, Eichenwald provides a global account of the period after 9/11, when, he argues, the Bush administration was driven by a panic that spread to the national security establishment.
The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran by David Crist. (Penguin) Crist explains the sometimes hapless responses of U.S. policymakers to the Iranian revolution: the hostage crisis under Jimmy Carter, the arms-for-hostages deal under Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” and Barack Obama’s “engagement” policy followed by a tightening vise of sanctions.
New York Times