Dreamlike, dense, original, this challenging novel has a cumulative power. Highly recommended.

THE BESIEGED CITY

In her third novel, acclaimed Brazilian luminary Lispector (The Chandelier, 2018, etc.) merges the personal with the mythopoetic in the story of a town transforming into a city and a girl observing it.

Lucrécia Neves lives with her widowed mother in São Geraldo, a place "already mingling some progress with the smell of the stable." Like the female protagonists in other Lispector novels, she is unremarkable, neither intelligent nor imaginative. "Her modest function...was: to look." On long walks through town and into the surrounding countryside she sees things "as a horse sees them," and her observation is linked to the reality of the thing itself. "Reality was needing the girl in order to have a shape...what was seen became her vague story." Seeing, she creates the city. The dense, vivid prose, frequent use of passive voice, close interiority, and dazzling observation already familiar to fans of Lispector's distinctive style are coupled here with a dreamlike surreality. Lucrécia is described at different points as having hooves and wings ("With monotonous and regular flapping she was flying in the darkness above the city"). Over the course of the novel she takes flirtatious walks, carries on insipid conversations, fights with her mother, marries a wealthy older man, moves to a big city, falls in love with someone unavailable. There are insights into relationships familial and matrimonial and unexpected flashes of humor ("Something without interest to anyone was happening, surely 'real life.' ") But what matters most is Lucrécia's way of seeing, which she continues even in sleep, "rubbing, forging, polishing, lathing, sculpting, the demented master-carpenter—preparing palely every night the material of the city." Her visionary function is essential and timeless. "When all the cities were erected with their names, they would destroy themselves anew....Upon the rubble horses would reappear announcing the rebirth of the old reality, their backs without riders. Because thus it had always been. Until a few men would tie them to wagons, once again erecting a city that they wouldn't understand, once again building, with innocent skill, the things. And then once more they'd need a pointing finger to give them their old names." Underpinning the novel are questions about gendered power, about time and the permanent and ephemeral. "And Lucrécia's, was that the true, surrendered life? the one that gets lost, the waves that rise furiously over the rocks, the mortal fragrance of flowers?"

Dreamlike, dense, original, this challenging novel has a cumulative power. Highly recommended.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2671-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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

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CIRCE

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

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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