May 1: Shelf Life
May brings heft and high drama to your reading list, beginning with Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (Henry Holt and Company), the saucy sequel to her Man Booker–winning Wolf Hall. This novel begins in 1535, when the Tudor consigliere Thomas Cromwell is forced to deal with a shunned Anne Boleyn as King Henry VIII vies for Jane Seymour and an heir. In her sophomore novel, The Newlyweds (Knopf), Nell Freudenberger probes the dynamics of Asian-American culture clashes, delving inside the online-arranged marriage of Amina, a 20-something Muslim from Bangladesh, to George, a New York electrical engineer 10 years her senior. George Balanchine’s fifth wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq, is the subject of the first-person roman à clef The Master’s Muse (Scribner), which has already raised the ire of some of the late ballerina’s friends for its probing of a famously private mind. Drawing from exhaustive film and archival research, author Varley O’Connor recalls everything from Le Clercq’s first dance (at age 11) for the Russian ballet master to the sudden polio diagnosis at age 27 that ended her career. Art and its obsessions are also at the heart of Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears (Knopf). Forced to keep quiet after the death of her colleague and lover at the fictional Swinburne Museum, curator Catherine Gehrig seeks solace in a project that leads her to the diaries of a man who commissioned a robotic swan for his sick son in 1854. The author deftly travels the fine line between love and madness in this emotionally complex novel without exploiting either.