Relies too much on its characters’ famous names to hold the reader’s attention.


Stead (Talking About O’Dwyer, 2000, etc.) takes a fellow New Zealander, short-story master Katherine Mansfield, as the protagonist of his listless tenth novel.

Not that the three years of Mansfield’s life covered here aren’t eventful: her beloved brother, Leslie Beauchamp, dies while giving grenade instruction to fellow soldiers in France; she spends a few days in the war zone making love with a French officer during one of the many low points in her ambivalent relationship with English literary man John (Jack) Middleton Murry; and the story closes in 1918 with her realization that she has TB, which the epilogue reminds us killed her five years later. But the focus is relentlessly inward; each chapter takes us inside the thoughts of a separate individual—Mansfield, Beauchamp, Murry, their friend Fred Goodyear (who also dies in the war), Frieda Lawrence, Dora Carrington—each one musing about their conflicted feelings in a way not nearly as interesting as the pioneering fiction of Mansfield herself or of Frieda’s husband. D.H. Lawrence is depicted at work during this period on Women in Love, based in part on his and Frieda’s charged friendship with Mansfield and Murry, but none of that novel’s stormy passion seeps into these pages. It’s all rather bloodless, right down to the parade of literary friends who make desultory appearances. T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley and Lytton Strachey are no more than sketches drawn from the ample shelf of books on this overstudied crowd; even “Bertie” Russell’s mildly amorous pursuit of Mansfield is . . . mild. Stead does manage a few sharp passages on Mansfield’s work, as she thinks over the urgings of Goodyear and D.H. Lawrence to move beyond being “too smart at the expense of common mortals” and concludes, “better honest about what I see around me . . . than a gypsy violinist playing oh so feelingly off the note.” That’s not enough of a revelation to redeem an excessively low-key narrative.

Relies too much on its characters’ famous names to hold the reader’s attention.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-09-946865-4

Page Count: 245

Publisher: Vintage UK/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.


Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 18

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


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. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?