All Souls’ Day displays with admirable lucidity the workings of a humane, civilized, and consistently interesting mind. But...


A documentary filmmaker’s tenuous hold on both reality and the past occupies the foreground of this very discursive 1998 novel by the prizewinning Dutch author (The Following Story, 1994, etc.).

On All Souls’ Day, November 2nd, prayers are offered on behalf of those who dwell in Purgatory. This practice neatly symbolizes the condition of 45-year-old Arthur Daane, who is mourning the deaths of his wife and son in a plane crash, and relocates to Berlin (after reunification)—reasoning that a place that has its own painful history to deal with is where he may as well be. There’s very little more in the way of action or incident here than this, as Nooteboom fills the story with Daane’s meditations on photography, history, art, the ideas of eminent philosophers (he has made a film about Nietzsche, and considers Walter Benjamin as a subject), and other matters: generally, the filmmaker’s (and the writer’s) vain efforts to capture and “stop” time, thus preventing it from elapsing. There are also numerous conversations with fellow émigrés and friends, including sculptor-writer Victor Leven (eternally haunted by the memory of WWII), “philosopher-turned-lunatic” Arthur Tieck (who has appeared in Daane films), and—back home in The Netherlands—Daane’s platonic confidante Erna, who isn’t much more than a device to help keep the talk flowing. When Daane meets lissome history student Elik Olanje, and follows her to Spain, dramatic things begin happening—too late, alas, to vitiate the reader’s conviction that he has been subject to an intolerably overextended harangue.

All Souls’ Day displays with admirable lucidity the workings of a humane, civilized, and consistently interesting mind. But it’s just barely a novel, and few readers are likely to stay its tortuous and redundant course.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-100566-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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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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