MANLY PURSUITS

Harries’s first novel is a triumph: a captivating, intelligent work taking the reader to the South Africa of Cecil Rhodes, in 1899, a region on the brink of war. In an elegant merging of idea and character, Harries tells the story of the dying imperialist Rhodes (—The Colossus—), who believes his life will be saved if he can hear again the birds of his native England. With Rhodes begin the themes of the tragedies of power and the quest for control. He hires the Oxford ornithologist Frederick Wills, a private, anxious don, to escort a shipload of songbirds to the Great Granary, Rhodes’s manorial residences. Guests there include Rudyard and Mrs. Kipling and Leander Jameson, the leader of the infamous Jameson Raid that precipitated the Boer War; and Wills embarks on his utopian voyage in the aftermath of the trial and imprisonment of his friend Oscar Wilde, with whom he had studied at Oxford under aesthetician John Ruskin. Having abandoned Wilde to his imprisonment, Wills approaches the Great Granary with a troubled, betrayer’s soul. But great appetites abound as he arrives: Rhodes’s ambition to subjugate Africa, Jameson’s hope of fulfilling his loyalty to Rhodes, the Kiplings” fascination with young innocence—as well as the English power to “civilize.” In deftly written interjections, Wills recalls Ruskin’s obsessions with natural beauty and Wilde’s exhilarating flirtations with sexual and moral taboos. This concentration of aspirations unsettles him, and his own dream of innocent beauty uncorrupted by the human yearning for possession blossoms in his friendship with a South African girl, who enchantingly (and dangerously) flits in and out of view. Harries’s ambition is broad, but her superb control of Wills’s fussy voice—the narrative prism used to view these historical figures—diminishes their “fame” while enhancing the intimacy with which Wills and the reader comprehends them. Far from a costume history, this is a genuinely provocative debut novel about a place and time whose tragedy, folly, and several conflicted hearts are instantly recognizable.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-58234-019-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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