cover image The Midnight News

The Midnight News

Jo Baker. Knopf, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-53497-7

In the arresting latest from Baker (Longbourn), a young typist in WWII-era London deals with overwhelming grief. Charlotte Richmond tries forge a new life apart from her dominating MP father, Sir Charles Richmond; her stepmother, Marion; and their lavish estate. Her older brother, Eddie, dies early in the war, and she sinks deeper into despair when her best friend El is killed in a German bombing raid. Charlotte, who believes she’s being followed by someone she calls “the shadow man,” suspects El was targeted in the raid, though no one else believes her and she begins questioning her sanity. Her family, long fed up after she refused to be in a debutante ball, has Charlotte committed to an asylum, where she’s subjected to insulin shock therapy and overwhelming doses of drugs. Though the plot is never fully resolved, the shadow man makes a consequential appearance at the asylum. Baker vividly portrays the surreal sight of London ravaged by the Blitz and adds psychological depth to Charlotte’s internal monologues (addressing El’s voice, whom she repeatedly hears after El’s death, she thinks, “You’re shock. You’re grief. You’re not El.... If I ignore you, you will go away”). This stands above run-of-the-mill WWII fare. Agents: Anna Stein and Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (May)