A deeply stirring, unforgettable novel that feels like a once-in-a-generation event.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • The Man Booker Prize Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner


In her third novel, which won the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Burns (Little Constructions, 2007, etc.) writes again about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, delivering a blistering feminist perspective on a community at war.

With an immense rush of dazzling language, Burns submerges readers beneath the tensions of life in a police state. It’s “the great Seventies hatred,” ostensibly in Belfast (where Burns was born), where “two warring religions” have endured “eight hundred years of the political problems.” Daringly, the novel’s 18-year-old narrator, known only as “middle sister,” claims that “every weekday, rain or shine, gunplay or bombs, stand-off or riots, [she] preferred to walk home reading [her] latest book.” Her father’s dead. She’s one of 10 children. She has a job and a boyfriend she might move in with, studies French, and helps her mother with her three precocious little sisters. But in recent months, “one of our highranking, prestigious dissidents,” known in the district as the “sinister, omniscient milkman,” has decided to stalk her, a nasty business that has ended thanks to his being “shot by one of the state hit squads.” His death ignites the tale, told in short jumps forward and backward in time, as the teenage narrator navigates the near-lethal rumor that she’s actually dating milkman and has joined “the groupies of these paramilitaries.” Less a coming-of-age story than a complex psychological portrait of Dostoyevskian proportion, each page bursts (at times repetitively) with inventive, richly detailed depictions of how “gossip, secrecy and communal policing” warp life doubly for those fighting injustice under an occupying foreign power. Burns was living on government assistance when she won the Man Booker, and her portrait of the way women, queer people, and the mentally ill in poverty eke out moments of joy despite intense surveillance, curfews, snipers, car bombs, and throat-cuttings is gripping and full of survivors’ humor.

A deeply stirring, unforgettable novel that feels like a once-in-a-generation event.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64445-000-0

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet