Impressive worldbuilding, but to what end?


An idiosyncratic and ambitious novel from the author of The Spoiler (2012).

“Hame” is Scots for “home.” This is a novel shot through with Scots poetry (invented by the author), interwoven with passages from the diary of a Scots poet (invented by the author), broken up by excerpts from a scholarly work on said poet (invented by the author, obviously), and studded with footnotes (referencing works invented by the author). There’s a glossary here and a bibliography. There are recipes. All of this is to say that, while the words “a novel” on a book cover can usually be read as a simple description, that phrase, in this case, is instead a rather provocative assertion. Certainly, McAfee is not the first novelist to use invented texts and scholarly apparatuses in service to contemporary fiction. Possession by A.S. Byatt is an obvious comparison. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and the fiction of Umberto Eco also come to mind. But Eco combines erudition with a healthy appreciation of juicy Gothic tropes. Clarke has magic. And there’s a fateful connection between the figures Byatt invents and the scholars who study them. What McAfee presents here will, perhaps, be most familiar to readers of J.R.R. Tolkien—who gives readers orcs and elves, sure, but in service to exhaustive worldbuilding. The island of Fascaray is Scotland in miniature in both landscape and history. Mary, Queen of Scots; Bonnie Prince Charlie; and Charles Rennie Mackintosh have all visited this remote place. And Grigor McWatt spent his life cataloging the place in both prose and poetry. McAfee's protagonist, Mhairi McPhail, moves from Manhattan to an island in the Hebrides because she’s writing a book about the “Bard of Fascaray” and because her marriage is over. The verse is convincing enough, and Mhairi’s study of McWatt certainly reads like an academic text. But ask an academic: how many people read their books? The sections presented from Mhairi’s point of view are more accessible, but the snarky tone is a bad fit here. While it’s easy to envision diverse readers attracted to this book, it’s difficult to imagine any reader who isn’t skimming over vast swathes of the very, very, very long text.

Impressive worldbuilding, but to what end?

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3172-4

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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Hoover is one of the freshest voices in new-adult fiction, and her latest resonates with true emotion, unforgettable...

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Sydney and Ridge make beautiful music together in a love triangle written by Hoover (Losing Hope, 2013, etc.), with a link to a digital soundtrack by American Idol contestant Griffin Peterson. 

Hoover is a master at writing scenes from dual perspectives. While music student Sydney is watching her neighbor Ridge play guitar on his balcony across the courtyard, Ridge is watching Sydney’s boyfriend, Hunter, secretly make out with her best friend on her balcony. The two begin a songwriting partnership that grows into something more once Sydney dumps Hunter and decides to crash with Ridge and his two roommates while she gets back on her feet. She finds out after the fact that Ridge already has a long-distance girlfriend, Maggie—and that he's deaf. Ridge’s deafness doesn’t impede their relationship or their music. In fact, it creates opportunities for sexy nonverbal communication and witty text messages: Ridge tenderly washes off a message he wrote on Sydney’s hand in ink, and when Sydney adds a few too many e’s to the word “squee” in her text, Ridge replies, “If those letters really make up a sound, I am so, so glad I can’t hear it.” While they fight their mutual attraction, their hope that “maybe someday” they can be together playfully comes out in their music. Peterson’s eight original songs flesh out Sydney’s lyrics with a good mix of moody musical styles: “Living a Lie” has the drama of a Coldplay piano ballad, while the chorus of “Maybe Someday” marches to the rhythm of the Lumineers. But Ridge’s lingering feelings for Maggie cause heartache for all three of them. Independent Maggie never complains about Ridge’s friendship with Sydney, and it's hard to even want Ridge to leave Maggie when she reveals her devastating secret. But Ridge can’t hide his feelings for Sydney long—and they face their dilemma with refreshing emotional honesty. 

Hoover is one of the freshest voices in new-adult fiction, and her latest resonates with true emotion, unforgettable characters and just the right amount of sexual tension.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5316-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.


Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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