Free to do nothing, a retiree bores himself and others, including the reader.

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STRANGERS

Brookner (Leaving Home, 2006, etc.) tells the story of bookish retiree Paul Sturgis.

Most of the novel takes place within Paul’s mind, which is also where most of Paul’s life takes place. Since leaving his job and the comfort of routine, Paul finds himself with only one ritual—occasional visits with Helena, the widow of his cousin and thus a distant relative, but apparently his only living one. Neither of them seems to enjoy the visits much, though they provide human connection in a world otherwise filled with strangers. Two chance encounters promise to enliven Paul’s existence, or threaten to complicate it. On a trip to Venice to avoid Helena’s annual Christmas invitation, he meets Vicky Gardner, a vivacious woman some 20 years younger. “Women, after pursuit on his part, had found him disappointing in a way that he had never fully understood,” muses Paul, yet Vicky doesn’t. Or maybe he doesn’t give her the chance. Or maybe she’s so engulfed by the complications of her life—her recent divorce, her rootlessness bordering on homelessness—that she simply doesn’t realize how disappointing a relationship with Paul might be. They continue to meet back home in London, complicating Paul’s life in a way that he occasionally finds stimulating but more often uncomfortable. Another chance encounter offers another complication, when he runs into Sarah, one of the women who had found him disappointing, and still does. Yet Sarah was one of only two girlfriends he had ever been serious about. He feels torn between his past with Sarah and whatever future he might have with Vicky, while recognizing that “a life lived purely in the mind, as he seemed to have lived his own, would seem not only without interest but bizarre, unnatural.”

Free to do nothing, a retiree bores himself and others, including the reader.

Pub Date: June 23, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6834-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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