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Book-Worm In Your Ear: The Zoo And How To Stop Time

For the upcoming holidays, if bringing a book along forms part of your plans, here are two quality contemporary fiction titles that fit the bill. The authors hail from England, and they come from opposite spectrums of the genre... so choose your 'wild'.


 

The Zoo by Christopher Wilson 

Here's a truly brilliant, scathingly funny account of the last days of Stalin. Yup, don't rub your eyes, and just read on. A biting satire, historical revisionism of the highest order, there's enough truth and history to make us wonder how much of it could be true, while holding back tears of mirth. Our narrator is Yuri, a young idiot, a brain-damaged savant, who finds himself being hired as the official food taster of Stalin. How that happens and why Yuri's father, head veterinarian at the Moscow Zoo, is brought in to treat the Man, are too precious to spoil. Enough for me to say that the political infighting of all those jostling to succeed Stalin, the use of Stalin doppelgängers, the egotism of Stalin himself, and the ludicrous chain of events depicted here, make for a wonderfully entertaining read. Yuri is a creation reminiscent of the protagonist of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time; but here, enmeshed in events where the stakes are that much higher from an historical perspective. 
 

     How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

For those who have read The Humans or The Radleys, they will be familiar with how Haig will take a popular trope, turn it upside-down, and stamp it with his personal blend of literary wit, soft humor, and pithy observation. In this latest, he takes on the Dorian Gray concept, but with a delicious twist. Our narrator is over four hundred years old, suffering from (or gifted with, your call) a body that started aging at a snail's pace since he was thirteen. With cameos from the likes of William Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, there's much to enjoy here from a Zelig/Forrest Gump scenario, but stretched over centuries. It's when our hero, Tom Hazard, is instructed by those similarly afflicted and in hiding, that in order to survive, one must never fall in love; that the tale takes on a very humanistic, bittersweet tone. It then becomes like a parable about the human condition, about finding oneself, and how this can take so many lifetimes and still leave us pondering. Witty, pithy, and at times, sad; but with a smile.