Redemption Falls by Joseph O'Connor (Free Press, $29).
This 1998 novel is a wonderfully imagined story set in a violent post–Civil War America peopled with extraordinary characters. It's beautifully crafted, bleak, and operatic.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (Harper Perennial, $22).
This book sat on my shelf for 20 years before I recently plucked up the courage to make inroads into its 1,400 pages. A few weeks later I was trying to ration my reading, as I never wanted it to end. Set a few years after India won independence from Britain, it is a most beautiful mosaic of interconnected families, Hindu and Muslim, arranged around the tale of a mother trying to find the right husband for her daughter. Fascinating, often very funny, and deeply touching.
Selected Stories by William Trevor (Penguin, $20).
I am entranced by these short stories and revisit them from time to time. Trevor never lays out where his stories are going — they are so deft and delicate that they just unfold, as he gently uncovers the wounded hearts of those who struggle with the shame and embarrassment of just being human.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Anchor, $16).
A World War II–era family drama turns into a story within a story, within a story — as well as a mystery, a thriller, and a tract on the politics of love, passion, and betrayal. It's brilliantly written, sharp as a blade, and completely engrossing.
The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (Picador, $16).
Vargas Llosa's 2003 novel — based, evidently, on highly meticulous research — connects Flora Tristán, an early-19th-century socialist writer and feminist, with her grandson, the great French post-impressionist Paul Gauguin. Two extraordinary people, two extraordinary lives.
Two More Pints by Roddy Doyle (Jonathan Cape [London], $6).
The author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Woman Who Walked into Doors imagines a concoction of conversations between two regulars in a Dublin bar. Each conversation has its own interior logic, which will leave you either bamboozled or snorting with joy. A little treasure that you can dip into from time to time to cheer you up.