A puzzling but haunting novel.

THE HOSPITAL

It would be hard to avoid the word "Kafkaesque" in describing this dreamlike and symbolic excursion into an institution that represents suffering humanity.

Originally published in French in 1990 and now translated for the first time, this novel by Moroccan writer and filmmaker Bouanani (1938-2011) plunges the reader into a world of pain, misery, and mystery—a world in which no one leaves the hospital because no one is ever cured. The patients are given nicknames that are both descriptive and evocative: Guzzler, Rover, Fartface. From the opening sentence—“When I walked through the large iron gate of the hospital, I must have still been alive”—Bouanani introduces a world of confinement and a kind of death in life. The narrator admits to being a “great amnesiac,” and much of the book is about the possibility of recovering his memory. He’s observant of the present, however, and spends a great deal of time describing what he sees—his fellow patients as well as the hospital itself. Incongruously, amid the bleakness of the patients’ lives, the hospital has a garden, ancient oaks, and profuse vegetation. Bouanani foregoes conventional narrative structure and instead presents his plot as a series of encounters—some brutish, some tender—between patients. The narrator uses the dreamlike aura of the hospital in a self-conscious way as he wonders for “the thousandth time” what he’s doing there and questions whether his experience is “dream or reality”—and he then aptly alludes to his earlier reading of Kafka and Borges. Nothing ever becomes quite clear in the narrator’s experience but rather remains murkily allegorical. Whatever else it may be, the hospital is definitely a microcosm of suffering humanity: “Regardless of where I look, even in the depths of my sleep, I see nothing but men set upon by a decay greater than ever before. It’s not just disease wearing them down.”

A puzzling but haunting novel.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2576-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Unquestionably the finest novel of the present century—and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now.

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2666

Life and art, death and transfiguration reverberate with protean intensity in the late (1953–2003) Chilean author’s final work: a mystery and quest novel of unparalleled richness.

Published posthumously in a single volume, despite its author’s instruction that it appear as five distinct novels, it’s a symphonic envisioning of moral and societal collapse, which begins with a mordantly amusing account (“The Part About the Critics”) of the efforts of four literary scholars to discover the obscured personal history and unknown present whereabouts of German novelist Benno von Archimboldi, an itinerant recluse rumored to be a likely Nobel laureate. Their searches lead them to northern Mexico, in a desert area notorious for the unsolved murders of hundreds of Mexican women presumably seeking freedom by crossing the U.S. border. In the novel’s second book, a Spanish academic (Amalfitano) now living in Mexico fears a similar fate threatens his beautiful daughter Rosa. It’s followed by the story of a black American journalist whom Rosa encounters, in a subplot only imperfectly related to the main narrative. Then, in “The Part About the Crimes,” the stories of the murdered women and various people in their lives (which echo much of the content of Bolaño’s other late mega-novel The Savage Detectives) lead to a police investigation that gradually focuses on the fugitive Archimboldi. Finally, “The Part About Archimboldi” introduces the figure of Hans Reiter, an artistically inclined young German growing up in Hitler’s shadow, living what amounts to an allegorical representation of German culture in extremis, and experiencing transformations that will send him halfway around the world; bring him literary success, consuming love and intolerable loss; and culminate in a destiny best understood by Reiter’s weary, similarly bereaved and burdened sister Lotte: “He’s stopped existing.” Bolaño’s gripping, increasingly astonishing fiction echoes the world-encompassing masterpieces of Stendhal, Mann, Grass, Pynchon and García Márquez, in a consummate display of literary virtuosity powered by an emotional thrust that can rip your heart out.

Unquestionably the finest novel of the present century—and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-10014-8

Page Count: 912

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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