A less splendid debut than the hype would suggest, but a book of considerable merit all the same—and of high entertainment...


So, a chimp walks into a bar…

Literally. At least in Hale’s debut novel, whose protagonist is a chimp who, among other things, does not disdain a stiff drink or three, or even “a quadruple Scotch on the rocks, please,” the aftermath of which merits ejection from a Chicago bar and a dejected walk to the apehouse down the road. Bruno is a chimp of parts: He has a knack for painting, and, he grouses, “the research center generously provides me with paints, brushes, canvases, etc.” so that he can make a fortune for the place through the sales of what, after all, are a fairly scarce commodity—works of art produced by a simian other than Homo sapiens. Bruno plays backgammon, thinks philosophical thoughts, wanders the woods in Thoreauvian splendor and generally has a fairly good time of it, even though he technically is an inmate, confined on account of a rather spectacular crime he committed, one that Hale unveils only after many hundreds of pages. The notion of a learned nonhuman primate is not entirely novel; Aldous Huxley played with it in Ape and Essence, and another denizen of Chicago, Laurence Gonzales, recently did magic with it in his novel Lucy. But Hale’s Bruno is smart and inclined to archness and irony, and it’s a pleasure to follow his thoughts, darkling and otherwise, save for those all-too-frequent moments when Hale comes over all cute (“Cyrano de Bruno” indeed). The novel requires heaping suspensions of disbelief for those unaccustomed to the premise that a chimpanzee can write a love letter while thinking snotty thoughts about its less talented cousins, “naked, hairy animals, unenlightened, ungifted with speech.” They have a word down at Tea Party central for such a critter: Elitist. And Bruno would probably cop to it, too.

A less splendid debut than the hype would suggest, but a book of considerable merit all the same—and of high entertainment value, too, as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-446-57157-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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