Though Benjamin can turn a nice phrase, this is an uneven first novel.


Dream researchers probe the subconscious, moral responsibility and the power of dreams on waking life.

Sylvie narrates the story of her entanglement with Adrian Keller, a renegade researcher interested in lucid dreaming, and his acolyte, Gabe. Keller is the headmaster at Mills, a prep school in Northern California (having mysteriously left his university position), and Gabe is part of a group of quick-witted teenage students. Sylvie and Gabe become inseparable, though she tries to ignore his suspicious comings and goings from Keller’s cottage. And then, without explanation, Gabe leaves school and vanishes from Sylvie’s life until her final year at UC Berkeley. He begins stalking her, and when she confronts him, he asks the unthinkable—that she drop out of college and work with him as a research assistant at Keller’s sleep institute. Sylvie is still in love with Gabe, so the two work with Keller on Martha’s Vineyard, then at Fort Bragg and finally in the neuroscience department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. People with serious sleep disorders—sleepwalking and night terrors—come to learn lucid dreaming in hopes that the lucidity will help end their dangerous behaviors. In Madison they are neighbors to a flirty Finnish couple, academics who question the ethics of their research; they suggest that a person’s knowledge of his or her deepest self can be treacherous. Unfortunately, none of this is as compelling or mysterious as Sylvie’s narrative tries to make it sound. Further impairing the novel are the frequent chronological shifts used to build suspense; the flipping back and forth merely muddles the plot. As Sylvie begins to question Keller’s work, she discovers the sordid truth about everything, but the twist at the end is hardly shocking enough to excuse the slow buildup.

Though Benjamin can turn a nice phrase, this is an uneven first novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 9781476761169

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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