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2019-09-13 11:11:16   
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About Books

ELLENVILLE – The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott (Knopf). Tremendously enjoyable historical spy novel, told by a smart, likable old person who was central to the carrying out of an ingenious and daring espionage plot 60 years ago.


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The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott (Knopf). Tremendously enjoyable historical spy novel, told by a smart, likable old person who was central to the carrying out of an ingenious and daring espionage plot 60 years ago. It’s pure fiction, but inspired by real events and featuring many real people — most notably, the author of the great classic Dr. Zhivago and his lover (the one called Lara in that novel — our present author’s name; coincidence?), but also, the CIA’s women operatives who did brilliant work in WWII and the Cold War, all unnoticed until recent histories thought to highlight them. Zhivago really was smuggled to the west at great peril, eluding the murderous Soviet security service. Lara Prescott is no spy (and no old person), but a seriously talented storyteller; her fine, big first novel is irresistible. 
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie (Random House). A strikingly nervy way of writing about a great literary work, a radical re-telling in a very modern setting of that cornerstone of the Western canon Don Quixote. Wildly exuberant, deeply literary and shamelessly slapsticky, it might well remind you, distantly, of Cervantes, but hardly at all of the early work of the great Rushdie. It’s startlingly and convincingly tragic at moments, but mostly full of not just parodies and impressions of the classic but jokes, including some proudly awful ones — and ghosts and realistic mad fantasies and all sorts of intoxications and something like SNL sketches, if those brilliant comedy writers were also profoundly literary. Equally thoughtful early reviews have either warmly praised or irritably dismissed this new book, and I’m not sure which I more nearly agree with. I know it was thrilling to wrestle with this contemporary master once again.
Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudices of Algorithms... by Robert Elliott Smith (Bloomsbury Business). A brilliant — not glaring but illuminating — introduction to a nasty flaw that’s all but endemic in the “thought” processes of artificial intelligence designs — a tendency that has identifiable resemblances to a kind of lazy, knee-jerk thinking that we humans fall into all too easily that’s the very soil that supports the bitter divisions that plague American civic culture now. Given the inevitability of AI’s growth, it must be got hold of — and it can be, Smith tells us, clearly and calmly. Though he can’t assure us that it will be.
The Long Call: A Two Rivers Novel by Ann Cleeves (St. Martin’s Minotaur). And, glory be, the launch of a brand-new series, with the most complex central character the great Cleeves has ever put before us, in a richly realized setting, as always — but more so than ever. Even Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez might have been unsettled at first by Matthew Venn, but they’d soon come to admire him, and so will you. And of course it’s to be a Brit-to-US TV series, by the producers of both of those earlier ones.
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