A relationship that could seem profoundly unfair blossoms into a revelation of love and magic.

BOX HILL

A STORY OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM

In a cruisy, pastoral spot, a young, inexperienced gay man trips over the “long and insolently extended” legs of a mysterious older gay man and falls, quite literally, into a new life.

It’s 1975, south of London, and clumsy, pudgy Colin is turning 18 on a Sunday, the day the bikers hang out at Box Hill in Surrey. Colin is so self-conscious about his weight and looks that he doesn’t understand that sexy, 6-foot-5 Ray—after an initial bit of sex in the fields near the pub where the bikers congregate—is taking possession of him by moving him into his home and controlling almost every aspect of his life. But that control is something Colin yearns for. Told by Colin years after the relationship has ended, Mars-Jones’ trim, poignant novel humanizes the intricacies of a dominant-submissive gay relationship. “If there are to be leaders then there must be followers, and I had followership skills in plenty,” Colin confides. Some aspects of their six years together are shocking: Colin learns to prefer sleeping on the floor and doesn’t ever learn Ray’s last name, occupation, or birthday. Since the novel is narrated by Colin, and since Colin loves the mystery of being with Ray, the potential pitfall here is that the mystery man will remain a cipher to readers. But Mars-Jones uncovers revealing details about Ray, like the fact that although he always heads up the motorcade of bikers, he’s not all cocky swagger; he’s a real stickler for speed limits and is courteous to pedestrians. Their relationship may end in tragedy, but it’s a joy to learn that Colin conquers the pejorative assessment in the novel’s subtitle, A Story of Low Self-Esteem.

A relationship that could seem profoundly unfair blossoms into a revelation of love and magic.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8112-3005-6

Page Count: 112

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

more