Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Books: New Novels From Sophie Haydock & Christopher Bollen


The Flames

By Sophie Haydock

The Overlook Press; hardcover, 464 pages; $28.00; available today, Tuesday, March 14th

Sophie Haydock is an award-winning author based in East London, and The Flames is her debut novel. Trained as a journalist at City University, London, she has worked at the Sunday Times Magazine, Tatler, and BBC Three, and written for the Financial Times and the Guardian Weekend magazine. Haydock has also worked for the Arts Council Royal Academy, and Sotheby's. She also works for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award and is associate director of the Word Factory literary organization. 

The Flames is set in the extravogant, Bohemian art world of early 20th century Vienna, which was an opulent society that lived under the shadow of war. This is an electrifying untold story of the four women who posed for and inspired the charming yet controversial painter Egon Schiele's groundbreaking erotic art.

Gertrude is his sister who survived their blighted childhood, but she is possessive, single-minded, and jealous. Vally, Schiele's mistress, is a poor young woman from a bad background but with steel at her core, and she is making her way as a model for the famed painter Gustav Klimt. Edith and Adele Harms are wealthy sisters who both are vying to become the wife of their scandalous neighbor, Schiele.

Vienna's elite experienced shock waves over Schiele's work and  private life. Over the course of a decade, these women are determined to defy convention and risk everything - their reputations, their most precious relationships, and their sanity and souls - as they try to hold on to the man they adore. As World War I throws their lives off course forever, and the Spanish flu pandemic ravages Europe, the question that becomes apparent is, Will any of them emerge unscathed from their relationship with this man? All it takes is one act of betrayal to change everything. 

Haydock brings this unforgettable world to incandescent light as she reimagines the intertwining lives of these women, four wild, blazing hearts in their quest to be known. Everything seems possible in an elegant Bohemian city like 1900s Vienna, but just as a flame has the power to mesmerize, it's possible it can also destroy.

The Lost Americans

By Christopher Bollen

Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; hardcover, 352 pages; $28.99; available today, Tuesday, March 14th

Christopher Bollen is the author of the critically acclaimed novels A Beautiful Crime, The Destroyers, Orient, and Lightning People. He is a frequent contributor to publications such as Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and Interview

The new novel from Bollen, whose work harkens to the masters of classic, The Lost Americans, is set against the exotic backdrop of modern Cairo and current geopolitical tensions. 

It begins with the death of Eric Castle, a weapons technician for a major American defense contractor whose body is found under his hotel balcony. Both his employer and the Egyptian authorities are quick to declare his death a suicide, and the reason they give is that is was brought on by guilt over his "immoral behavior" during his stay in Egypt.

Eric's sister, Cate, is not convinced at all, and the large financial settlement her family has been offered only adds to her suspicions. She travels to Egypt to piece together her brother's life in Cairo with the help of a handsome, young, gay Egyptian man named Omar, who is eager to escape the brutality from his country's restrictive government.

Cate's quest not only doesn't lead her to find out the real reason her brother died, but it has raised more questions, and problems. It leads her to take on the arms company's top brass and the Egyptian military, secret police, and American expats with their own reasons to keep the dead buried. 

Eventually, Cate is in over her head, and it isn't clear if she or Omar will make it out alive, and Bollen's depth of characterization keeps the intensity at fever pitch throughout this riveting novel.

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