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book review

The Wake
By Paul Kingsnorth, Graywolf, 384 pages, $18.50
"now in this small holt by bacstune locan at the treows i was thincan that these frenc they wolde gif all these things other names." You read that right. The Wake – to be Paul Kingnorth's North American debut when published next week – is written in a "shadow tongue" of Old English, with stellar results. Set between 1066 and 1068, during the Norman invasion and occupation of England, The Wake concerns Buccmaster, a free landed farmer in the Lincolnshire fens who joins the guerrilla fighters of the English resistance after losing everything to the fires of Norman conquest. Kingsnorth's invented language is no gimmick. While it does take some getting used to (around 30 pages), the payout is full immersion in Buccmaster's earthy, rude, rough-hewn lyricism as he bears witnesses to the collapse of English culture. A war epic, psychological thriller, and brooding meditation on the past's foreignness all in one.

Among the Ten Thousand Things
By Julia Pierpont, Random House, 318 pages, $31
One of those coincidences that sometimes happen, Among the Ten Thousand Things seems especially timely in the wake of the Ashley Madison hack – good evidence that Julia Pierpont has tapped into the zeitgeist. The novel opens with an anonymous cover letter. It's addressed to Deb, wife of acclaimed New York artist Jack Shanley, from the young woman with whom Jack recently had an affair, and covers a printed stack of explicit messages from Jack. What makes this story so current is how it isn't the affair that does the real damage – Deb already knew about that – but its semi-public nature, because Deb is the third person to read the package, after her daughter, 11, and her son, 15. This is a novel of aftermath, a point driven home by an innovative, quietly devastating structure and a keen but emphatic eye for a family unravelling despite, or perhaps because of, love.

The Sunlit Night
By Rebecca Dinerstein, Bloomsbury, 249 pages, $30
Isolated islands have a way of drawing together bands of outsiders, at least in fiction. Lofoten, an Arctic archipelago jutting into the Norwegian Sea, is one such place. Wild, craggy mountains domineer the few low-lying settlements. In summer the midnight sun dips low to draw out an orange-cranberry sky. This otherworldly backdrop offers a hint of the supernatural to Rebecca Dinerstein's story of two New Yorkers pulled to the top of the world for very different reasons. Frances is a recent art school graduate escaping her family's cramped Manhattan apartment and recent familial strife to take a summer residency with a painter who uses only yellow. Teenaged Yasha, a Russian immigrant recently of Brighton Beach, journeys to northern Norway to fulfill a family obligation. Their paths intersect at the Viking Museum, itself staffed by a crew of misfits. A wholly satisfying novel about finding family among life's fellow travellers.