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A sweeping and enchanting new novel from the author of The Giant’s House

From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the beginning of the twentieth century – nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin and fifteen pounds of gold on her person – Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. She has no past to speak of, or at least none she is willing to reveal, and her mysterious origin scandalises and intrigues the townspeople, as does her choice to marry and start a family with Leviticus Sprague, the doctor who revived her. But Bertha is plucky, tenacious and entrepreneurial, and the bowling alley she opens quickly becomes Salford’s most defining landmark – with Bertha its most notable resident. She changes the town forever: her singular spirit resonating powerfully through every board and brick and bone.

In a voice laced with insight and her signature sharp humour, Elizabeth McCracken has written an epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America. Bowlaway is both a stunning feat of language and a brilliant unravelling of a family’s myths and secrets, its passions and betrayals, and the ties that bind and the rifts that divide.


A big, glorious novel in every sense, this sprawling family saga… is a funny and big-hearted epic from a seriously gifted wordsmith.

Samantha Irby, Marie Claire

[McCracken has] considerable gifts as a novelist [and] instinctive access to the most intricate threads of human thought and feeling... This novel’s cast grows epic, but McCracken is always most impressive when she works small, when she is describing movie kisses or corsets or simply loneliness and longing.

New York Times

McCracken’s rambunctious saga [Bowlaway]… is a funhouse of a novel. Even the most incidental of characters are granted glorious vignettes… in [an] unpredictable and startling world.

Wendy Erskine, Spectator

Death and life, frosted with macabre comedy: it’s why we’ve enjoyed Elizabeth McCracken since her debut novel, The Giant’s House… nothing is ordinary in this story… There’s a wickedness to McCracken’s technique, the way she lures us in with her witty voice and oddball characters but then kicks the wind out of us… endlessly surprising.

Ron Charles, Washington Post

Bowlaway is that most improbable of literary phenomena: a buoyant, joyful, rollicking yarn of sadness and loss... McCracken’s gloriously vibrant and boisterously surprising narrative voice is one of the great triumphs of Bowlaway... A tour de force.

Boston Globe

Wildly entertaining... [A] wonderfully unpredictable multi-generational saga which revolves around a Massachusetts bowling alley... Bowlaway celebrates the oddest of oddballs and the freakiest of freak accidents with wit and heart. To read McCracken’s inimitably clever sentences and follow her quirky narrative twists is to be constantly delighted.


McCracken’s newest novel, a 20th-century family epic centered on candlepin bowling, is populated by strange, excellent characters, and unfolds with all the offbeat coziness and heartache of a great American fable: molasses floods, workplace fires, surprising heirs, and all.

Vanity Fair

Irresistibly quirky… Packed with Dickensian characters and plot devices (orphans, secret wills, hidden treasure…), [Bowlaway is] lyrical and humorous, with some dazzlingly inventive twists. A family saga unlike any other.

Hephzibah Anderson, Mail on Sunday

At the turn of the 20th century a woman is discovered unconscious and nearly frozen in a New England cemetery with only a bowling ball, a candlepin, and 15 pounds of gold on her. The National Book Award finalist’s exuberantly weird and wonderful book unravels the mystery.

O, the Oprah Magazine

Bowlaway snatches up every individual that finds joy or tragedy in proximity to the bowling alley and allows them to be observed tenderly and precisely... McCracken’s love of language is the catching kind... In Bowlaway, the journey through McCracken’s lush, piercing prose is the destination.

Austin Chronicle

Reading Elizabeth McCracken—the gorgeously-put-together sentences parading the pages like models on a Paris runway; the crazy, original insights; the definitive, wholly fictional pronouncements—is like going on an automotive safari... I could not stop reading.


McCracken’s book is a little McCrackers – a woman falls from the sky, lands in a graveyard and survives to open a bowling alley… there’s a strong American Gothic, magical realism feel… But who is she really? Or any of us, come to that? As we follow Bertha and her family down the generations, the answer seems to be that people are strange, life is random and what matters is love.

Wendy Holden, Daily Mail

McCracken’s imaginative reserves and her delight in outlandish events make [Bowlaway]… a kind of fable – a colourful and often captivating fantasia on New England themes.

New Yorker

McCracken’s delightful prose and rich historical details make this the perfect book to get lost in.

Real Simple

[An] accomplished novel.


McCracken is a firecracker stylist and every sentence, every image, is crafted for physical impact… It is exuberant, a bit bonkers and raw and unflinching. It will find a great many fans – and no about some awards, too.

Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times

Passionate and comically self-aware romanticizing of candlepin bowling itself… genius… McCracken’s… delightful voice and poetic facility have been present since her debut novel… Bowlaway…[is] a towering, hearty, multi-tiered cake, dazzling and confident in its construction.

Kim Fu, Times Literary Supplement

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Formats & editions

  • Hardback


    March 14, 2019

    Jonathan Cape

    384 pages

    RRP $48.00

    Online retailers

    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • Fishpond
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • Trade Paperback


    March 19, 2019

    Jonathan Cape

    384 pages

    RRP $37.00

    Online retailers

    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • Fishpond
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • EBook


    March 7, 2019

    Vintage Digital

    384 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle NZ
    • iBooks NZ
    • Google Play EBook NZ
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia NZ

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