Viking: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Or What You Will

Jo Walton's Or What You Will is a clever and curious book that uses stories to ponder the nature of storytelling. Sylvia, author of 30 books over a 40-year career, is working on a new novel set in the same location as some of her earlier works: Thalia, a Florence-like city in a Renaissance-resembling time. But this novel is getting away from her, slowly filling with stories of her own life, the muse that lives inside her head interjecting himself into her writing more frequently. As Sylvia writes, both she and her muse face down their own mortality, even as the Thalian novel grows and spins and fills into itself, full of semi-historical detail and literary traditions (including a cast of characters drawn straight from the pages of various Shakespeare plays).

It takes no small amount of trust to fall into the world that Walton (My Real Children; The Just City) builds here, especially as Or What You Will alternates between the story of Thalia, as told by Sylvia; and the story of Sylvia, as told by the voice in her head; and the story of how the two intersect, as told by some combination of both of them. Walton, like Sylvia and her nameless muse, seems to value "the readers who press on and find it worthwhile, who may frown and blink now and then but keep reading... slip into the reading trance, the stories we spin you." That trust is not misplaced, as the narratives Walton and her quirky narrators tell in Or What You Will promise to delight any reader who appreciates a good story--with an enchanting side of snark. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer