know nothing, nothing at all.

” He knows he’s where he was always meant to be, though, and he takes to the sea like a fish. “It seemed to me for one moment that unhappiness was a nonsense.” How quickly that glee evaporates. Birch finds inspiration from the same tale that captured Herman Mel-

pooners in action, the gory rendering of the world’s largest mammals and timber-splitting storms that crash down on the ship like giant ax blades. Even her monitor lizard seems capable of carrying the mantle of that deadly white whale. After all, a whale makes a great canvas on which Melville can project all

mad God and merciless nature.” For a new salty adventure across the watery part of the world, you won’t find a better passage than “Jamrach’s Menagerie.” Charles is The Post’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.


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and mystery.” In Le Clezio’s fictional universe, the world exists in a prelapsarian state of timeless grace, at least until the inevitably corrupt and destructive world of adults comes crashing in.





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elationship with in the timeof teens everyte to point out don’t have a clue Mikki tells him. Mom.” ters are packed o rival Baldacci’s urtroom drama! ans of Nicholas mmer diversion ges a good mes-

of “Skipping a of Me.”

J.M.G. Le Clezio was not widely read on these shores before winning the Nobel Prize in 2008, an honor that has caused renewed interest in translating his works for Americans. Mondo and Other Stories (Univ. of Nebraska Press; paperback, $19.95, translated from the French by Alison Anderson) makes it is easy to see why Le Clezio’s work would have difficulty reaching a wide audience in this country. These strange, hypnotic, overtly poetic pieces are unhampered by such shallow commercial contrivances as dialogue and plot. It takes time to adjust one’s mental clock to the slow rhythm of his surreal fables, which feature rolling, lush descriptions of the sun-drenched landscape of southern France. Most of the stories in “Mondo” are told from the point of view of young children, who exist here in a preverbal state of perfect synchronicity with nature. At times, this Rousseauian vision takes on a very nearly misanthropic tone. The wisest character of all is a goat named Hatrous, who “knew so many things, not the things you find in books that men like to talk about but silent, strong things, things full of beauty

Roddy Doyle’s world, typically, is pretty much all destructive adults, all the time. Doyle, who took the Booker Prize in 1993 for “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha,” has been a gifted chronicler of working-class Irish life, with all of its attendant ugliness, conflict and moments of unexpected beauty. The stories in Bullfighting (Viking, $25.95), however, represent a step sideways at best. Doyle has always had an eye for heartbreaking detail and an ear for blunt, colloquial, often profane rhythms of everyday speech and thought. The problem with these most recent stories is that the scope of his imagination has narrowed to a claustrophobic slice of the human experience. All of the stories in “Bullfighting” are narrated by men who have found themselves stranded in the wasteland of late middle age — “his memories were wearing out,” says one, “and there was nothing new replacing them.” Although Doyle replicates their voices, full of regret and rage and wistfulness, with effortless accuracy, their stunted emotional range does not yield a richly varied experience for the reader. Even the weightier stories, such as “Funerals,” with its hint of buried scandal, and the title story, which depicts a rare moment of unforced male camaraderie, occupy an oddly muted register.

Doyle’s protagonists, however taciturn, are gushing fonts of sentimentality compared with the buttoned-up Englishmen who inhabit Julian Barnes’s Pulse (Knopf, $25). The narrator of the title story, for example, facing the death of a parent, observes that “the bigger the matter, the less there is to say,” a dictum that receives its corollary expression in the quartet of stories titled “At Phil & Joanna’s.” The cosmopolitan couples whose after-dinner conversation makes up these alldialogue sketches are so outrageously witty and suave that one’s jaw drops in anthropological wonder; rarely outside of Oscar Wilde does one encounter such a torrent of perfectly phrased epigrams. Elsewhere, Barnes gives us a pair of historical fiction set pieces, one of which — “The Limner” — is very nearly perfect. “Pulse” is rounded out with a handful of character studies whose narrators, feckless in love and hamstrung by diffidence, contend as best they can with the small humiliations, missed connections and clumsy attempts at intimacy that characterize modern life. One of these men speaks of the fleeting moment when “life was poised to lurch irretrievably in one direction or another,” providing a rare “chance to see clearly before being flung into the full business of being yourself among others.” That “chance to see” — that pause, full of momentary grace — is exactly what these wry, urbane stories offer. Lindgren is a writer and musician who lives in New York City.


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