Motion’s plot wobbles as he casts his net wide to include slavery, but his ambition is admirable, as is his stylistic...

SILVER

RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND

The British critic/biographer and former Poet Laureate, in his spirited sequel to Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island, keeps the core of the original (the quest), while adding his own distinctive imprint.

It’s 1802, and 35 years since the Hispaniola set sail for Treasure Island. Former cabin boy Jim Hawkins owns a Thames-side inn outside London; his only child, also called Jim, is a well-educated amateur botanist. This 17-year-old Jim is our new hero and narrator, but don’t expect Stevenson’s pell-mell pace; Motion’s rhythm is much more leisurely. A blanketed figure in a small boat beckons to Jim. This is Natty, the tomboy daughter of the treacherous Long John Silver, who has his own inn upriver. It’s love at first sight for Jim, despite his unexplained fear of women. Natty takes Jim to meet Silver, blind and feeble. The old reprobate’s dying wish is for the youngsters to retrieve the remaining silver from the island. A ship and crew await them. Silver needs Jim to get the map, which his father keeps locked away; Jim’s theft of the map weighs heavily on his conscience, but he’s not about to pass up an adventure with Natty, disguised as a man for the voyage. Their position on board is privileged; Natty is her father’s representative, and Jim’s history is well-known. The situation on the island is horrifying. Stevenson’s three maroons, or castaways, have been joined by passengers from a shipwreck: 50 slaves and their guards. The maroons have imposed a reign of terror, resulting in a Conrad-ian “impenetrable darkness.” Natty will be captured. There will be exciting reversals of fortune before her stouthearted Captain’s party confronts the former pirates, who are almost too freaky in their “disgustingness.” Good people die; Jim must spill blood. In these scenes, Motion matches the raw vitality of Stevenson, though his conclusion is far more grim.

Motion’s plot wobbles as he casts his net wide to include slavery, but his ambition is admirable, as is his stylistic elegance.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-88487-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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