Upcoming: THE MAIDENS by Alex Michaelides (Celadon/W&N)

MichaelidesA-MaidensUSThe Maidens by Alex Michaelides has been getting a fair amount of pre-publication buzz. It’s the author’s second novel (his debut was The Silent Patient). The synopsis suggests an intriguing campus thriller, and certainly piqued my interest:

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike-particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

MichaelidesA-MaidensUKMariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything-including her own life.

Alex Michaelides’s The Maidens is due to be published by Celadon Books in North America (June 15th) and W&N in the UK (June 10th). Looking forward to reading this.

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Review: THE SHAKESPEARE REQUIREMENT by Julie Schumacher (Doubleday)

SchumacherJ-JF2-ShakespeareRequirementUSA fantastic follow-up to Dear Committee Members

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune keep hitting beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger right between the eyes in this hilarious and eagerly awaited sequel to the cult classic of anhedonic academe, the Thurber Prize-winning Dear Committee Members. Once more into the breach…

Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.

Lord, what fools these mortals be! Julie Schumacher proves the point and makes the most of it in this delicious romp of satire.

Julie Schumacher’s previous novel, Dear Committee Members was one of my favourite novels of 2014: it was funny, warm-hearted, extremely well-written, and populated by familiar and endearing (albeit hapless) characters. In The Shakespeare Requirement, the author reunites readers with characters at Payne University. Written in a slightly different style, it is no less engaging, amusing and sharply observed. Another excellent novel. Continue reading

Mini-Review: DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS by Julie Schumacher (Doubleday/Friday Project)

SchumacherJ-DearCommitteeMembersUSAn amusing, epistolary novel of academia, modern life and literature

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work “Accountant in a Bordello”, based on Melville’s Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.

A very quick review, here. I’d heard about this novel a fair bit in the lead-up to publication, and as someone who has spent an awful lot of time at academic institutions, I was intrigued by the premise: a story told through a series of Letters of Recommendation. I was not disappointed. Continue reading