What are all these dead people doing in my fiction reading? They’re all over the place in this year’s Booker Prize winner, “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, wafting willy-nilly with the winds, hunkering in treetops, hitching rides atop city buses in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo and constantly bellyaching about their suspended state in the “In Between.” Most — no, all of them are marked by wounds that bear gruesome witness to the savage brutality of the Sri Lankan civil wars of the 1980s and ‘90s that resulted in their murders. 

They put me in mind of the wacky cast of incorporeal characters inhabiting the graveyard that our 16th president felt compelled to visit nightly in mourning for his dead son Willie in George Saunders’ brilliant and haunting (no pun intended) “Lincoln in the Bardo,” another Booker winner from 2017. All of these ghosts—and there are dozens of them—have their own backstories, speech patterns and nagging worries hounding them, and they all have one thing in common: None accepts that he or she is, in fact, dead and trapped in the Bardo, a Tibetan concept that mirrors the “In Between” state in Karunatilaka’s novel.  

Ghosts play a major role in Shehan Karunatilaka’s critically acclaimed novel. (Courtesy Norton)

Fittingly enough, Saunders is one of many the “Seven Moons” author gives a nod of thanks to in his concluding acknowledgments, but the literary conceit of having the dead interact with or comment upon the living is a tradition as long as your proverbial arm, stretching back at least as far as the shades Dante speaks with in “The Inferno” at the beginning of the 13th century. Shakespeare, of course, contributed his share of active but inanimate characters—Banquo in “Macbeth,” the paternal ghost in “Hamlet”—as did Charles Dickens, by resurrecting Jacob Marley, in conspicuously symbolic chains, in “A Christmas Carol.” 

More recent examples: Susie Salmon, raped and murdered, is the wistful narrator watching over the lives of family and friends left behind in Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel “The Lovely Bones” from 2002. And, to startling effect, author William Kennedy has his main character Francis Phelan’s buried parents and a couple of unsavory late acquaintances remarking, from six feet under, upon his passage through the cemetery as he heads to a grave-digging gig in the concluding novel to the “Albany” trilogy, 1989’s “Ironweed,” which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  

{Book cover courtesy Doubleday)

In the pipeline: The incredibly prolific Margaret Atwood —perhaps our own Joyce Carol Oates is one of few authors who can claim an output similar to the pride of Toronto’s 60-plus books to date — has another work coming out on March 7. “Old Babes in the Wood” (Doubleday, $30, 272 pages), a collection of 15 stories, is Atwood’s first return to short fiction since 2014’s “Stone Mattress.” Poignant themes of family, relationships and memory loss are intertwined throughout; the story that gives the collection its cheeky title (which comes last in the book) deals with two spirited sisters in their 70s, introduced to us on a mild summer’s evening at their family retreat, who are caught up in a labyrinth of time and memory. 

Jennifer Egan’s novel “The Candy House” is being released in paperback this month. (Author photo by Pieter M. Van Hattem/book cover courtesy Scribner)

Author alert: Jennifer Egan, a 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” has an even more intellectually dazzling novel out, in my opinion, with “The Candy House,” published by Scribner last April and releasing in paperback on March 7. Like “Goon Squad,” it is an interrelated collection of chapters featuring characters whose lives intersect that, taken together, amounts to a novel. It opens with a brilliant social media technocrat desperately searching for his next “big idea” who winds up founding a wildly successful “externalized memory” company called “Own Your Unconscious” that permits people to download every single thought and experience they’ve ever had—and also, scarily enough—to access the consciousness of others. Egan, also the author of “Manhattan Beach” and “The Invisible Circus,” has two Bay Area appearances coming up in March. She is at the Cowell Ranch Hay Barn on the University of California, Santa Cruz campus at 7 p.m. March 15 in an event cosponsored by the university’s Humanities Institute and Bookshop Santa Cruz. Find ticketing options, $10-$22, through www.bookshopsantacruz.com. City Arts & Lectures in San Francisco hosts her next at the Sydney Goldstein Theater, 275 Hayes St., at 7:30 p.m. March 16. Tickets, $36, can be accessed through www.cityarts.net, and the program will be recorded for broadcast on KQED and KQED.org on March 26, March 28 and March 29. 

Ewan McGregor will play Count Rostov in an upcoming Showtime series based on ” A Gentleman in Moscow.” (Photo by Harper Smith) 

From page to small screen: We can’t give you a release date yet, but filming has already begun on a Showtime TV series based on the 2016 Amor Towles best-selling novel “A Gentleman in Moscow.” And we think they have hit upon exactly the right actor to play the Russian aristocrat caught on the wrong side of history in 1922 and put under house arrest in a hotel by the Bolsheviks. Ewan McGregor will step into the well-heeled shoes of Count Alexander Rostov—and he will also serve as an executive producer for the eight-episode series, which will air on Paramount Plus in the United Kingdom. 

Hooked on Books is a monthly column by Sue Gilmore on current literary buzz and can’t-miss upcoming book events. Look for it here every last Thursday of the month.