Impressive worldbuilding, but to what end?

HAME

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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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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With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

LOVE AND OTHER WORDS

Eleven years ago, he broke her heart. But he doesn’t know why she never forgave him.

Toggling between past and present, two love stories unfold simultaneously. In the first, Macy Sorensen meets and falls in love with the boy next door, Elliot Petropoulos, in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Ultimately, they’re separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance—Elliot and Macy always kept their relationship casual because they went to different schools. And as a teen, Macy has more to worry about than which girl Elliot is taking to the prom. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. In the present day, Macy’s father is dead as well. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future.

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2801-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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