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The Best Books of 2001

Fiction

December 02, 2001

David Lodge is at heart as traditional a realist as Fielding or Dickens, with the kind of generous imagination guaranteed to win, and retain, loyal readers. In "Thinks ...," we find a professor of artificial intelligence and cognitive science at the (fictitious, to date) University of Gloucester, who retreats for weekends to a country cottage equipped with an outdoor redwood hot tub imported ("at enormous expense," he announces proudly) from California, and whose wife can, at one day's notice, without turning a hair, book herself a business-class flight from the U.K. to Los Angeles and back. Ralph Messenger, the professor in question, is in pursuit, with equal enthusiasm, of the enigma of human consciousness and any attractive woman in sight. This is perhaps Lodge's best, certainly his subtlest, novel to date: thought-provoking and compulsively readable narrative.

Peter Green

*

THREE APPLES

FELL FROM HEAVEN

A Novel

By Micheline Aharonian Marcom

Riverhead Press: 208 pp., $23.95

*

"Three Apples Fell From Heaven," Micheline Aharonian Marcom's sobering debut novel, is about the persecution and murder of several hundred thousand Christian Armenians in Turkey during World War I, an event known as the Armenian genocide but which the Turks continue to deny. "Three Apples" is a rich and unconsoling novel, in which readers are thrust from one violent act to another, uneasy witnesses to exile, the gouging of eyes, rapes, dismemberments, burnings. With a combination of gritty imagery and precise, acid-etched prose, Marcom proves the power of words against forgetfulness. If only they had enough power to hold off the timeless malevolence of ethnic hatred.

Regina Marler

*

TRUE HISTORY

OF THE KELLY GANG

A Novel

By Peter Carey

Alfred A. Knopf: 356 pp., $25

*

Australian novelist Peter Carey is as quick a word-slinger as any these days. For his last few novels, he has set up a literary bivouac in a 19th century that is close enough for sympathy and distant enough for fun. Between his Booker Prize-winning "Oscar and Lucinda" and his masterful retelling of Dickens' "Great Expectations" in "Jack Maggs," Carey has discovered that enough sagebrush or marsh grass or eucalyptus has gone under the dam to give him the necessary elbow room for invention. In "True History of the Kelly Gang," Carey takes on a piece of Australian history big enough to warrant a place in the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics yet obscure enough in our northern climes to allow for a little freewheeling rassling: the infamous 19th century bushranger Edward Kelly. Carey's pen writes with an ink that is two parts archaic and one part modern and colors a prose that rocks and cajoles the reader into a certainty that Ned Kelly is fit company not only for Jack Palance and Clint Eastwood but for Thomas Jefferson and perhaps even a bodhisattva.

Jonathan Levi

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