SEVEN HOUSES

In spite of all the color and pretty prose: a dull and underdeveloped saga.

Noted scriptwriter and second-novelist Croutier (The Palace of Tears, 2000) details the fall of a once-powerful family as Turkey changes from a backwater to a country allied with the West: a tale more loving ode to the past than gripping narrative.

Croutier’s multigenerational saga begins, in 1918, with the young widow Esma, as the Ottoman Empire ends and modern Turkey comes into being. Esma and her sons Cadri and Aladdin are living in a house on the waterfront in Smyrna. Esma, in love with her sons’ tutor Suleyman, gives birth to a daughter, Aida, but her family of wealthy silk producers prevents her from marrying Suleyman, who by then has disappeared, and Esma, thinking him dead, gives Aida to her brother and sister-in-law to be raised as their own. As the setting shifts from Smyrna to a house on the family silk plantation, then to city apartments, more houses, and finally a cottage in Smyrna, the story not only describes changes in the family but also the political changes: Ataturk’s secularization, the growing American influence, and the revival of religious fundamentalism in the l990s. The narrative is padded with old legends and strained touches of magic realism: there are “tear-shaped diamonds falling off his mother’s eyes that would save the family from being destitute,” and a maid servant remains forever young thanks to her carnal appetites. Aida grows up to be a beauty, attracts both Ataturk and his young military aide, then marries the aide; and Esma’s son Cadri marries Camilla, a feisty woman who gives birth to Amber, despite Esma’s malign curses. Amber later moves to the US, becomes an architect, and marries—the details are sketchy—but returns, in 1997, to visit an aging Aida and find a neat if contrived way to regaining the family’s spiritual home.

In spite of all the color and pretty prose: a dull and underdeveloped saga.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2002

ISBN: 0-7434-4413-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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