A brilliant character study encased in a gripping plot with a fabulous final twist.

NIGHTSHADE

Walking across London after dark, an artist reviews her past and fears the future in McAfee’s pitch-black new novel.

Eve Laing grows and then paints plants in jewellike works that have garnered her some success but also condescension as a dainty, feminine artist. This infuriates her almost as much as the fame of her one-time friend, a confessional performance artist Eve dissed years ago with a widely reprinted wisecrack: “Wanda Wilson’s sole talent is for monstrous self-pity.” She’ll live to regret that remark in the jaw-dropping finale to a masterfully orchestrated narrative that fully justifies its pervasive atmosphere of lurking dread. When we meet Eve, she’s looking through the window of the town house where she used to live with her husband, Kristof. Eve left him five months ago, consumed by her new project and by Luka, the young assistant who has become her lover. At 60, Eve has decided to finally silence her patronizing critics with Poison Florilegium, a seven-panel depiction of deadly plants “lovely as their innocent sisters, venomous as snakes”; she views it as a tribute to “all those female artists…who laboured in the shadows.” As her memories unfold during her walk, we learn that Eve’s bitter determination stems from ancient wounds: an unhappy childhood, a humiliating affair with her famous art teacher, frustrations as a wife and mother. These injuries have rendered her both cruel and vindictive: “stringy Nancy, with her unfortunate recessive chin” is among Eve’s kindest comments about her daughter; and her revenge on an old friend who had a fling with Kristof is shockingly excessive. Eve isn’t meant to be likable—McAfee’s whip-smart text implicitly makes the point that no one objects to male artists being selfish and unkind—but she’s desperately human. We understand her rage and wince at her blindness to the dangers right under her nose in a text as studded with red-flag clues as it is with penetrating insights.

A brilliant character study encased in a gripping plot with a fabulous final twist.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65829-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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