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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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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