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THE LIVING DAYS

A gorgeously written, profoundly upsetting fairy tale of race, class, power, and desire.

In her latest work to be published in the United States, Devi (Eve Out of Her Ruins, 2016, etc.), a celebrated Mauritian author, uses modern London as a place to explore the legacy of colonialism and the limitations of global culture.

Mary Grimes, an old white woman, is sitting in her rotting home in Portobello Road, reminiscing as she waits to die. Her thoughts drift back to her youth during World War II. With death looming, young people are given license to live, and even timid Mary Rose manages to have a sexual adventure. She escapes her family and the countryside for London when her grandfather leaves her his terraced house, and, there, she works as a sculptor until arthritis makes that impossible. She is now purposeless, poor, and alone—until she meets Cub. The son of a single mother of Jamaican descent, Cub is 13 when he begins doing odd jobs for Mary, 13 when he moves into her house, and 13 when he starts sleeping in her bed. Devi’s language is luscious (translator Zuckerman deserves notice for turning the author’s French into fluid, exquisitely precise English), and her depiction of Mary so gentle, that the reader might be lulled into hoping that this relationship is somehow not as grotesque as it seems. Like the best narratives that use fantastic tropes, this one defies being reduced to one simple set of meanings, but it’s fair to say that the novel uses the lens of post-colonialism to test the promises of cosmopolitanism and liberalism. Devi is a native of Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean ruled by the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain before its independence in 1968. It’s not difficult to see Mary, in her frailty, as a ghost of the British Empire, drawing fresh vitality from young black newcomers to the kingdom while relegating them to the status of subhuman chattel. The genius of this story is that Devi goes beyond revealing this dynamic to explore its insidious, often invisible reach.

A gorgeously written, profoundly upsetting fairy tale of race, class, power, and desire.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-936932-70-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Awards & Accolades

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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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