A deft bit of Lodgian satire of writers, media, and writing—with teeth as sharp as ever, but also with a heart, however...

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Adapted by the author from a stage play of his own—with the result that it’s, well, a bit stagy—Lodge’s effort even so offers a satiric nougat that’s sweet indeed and less frothy than one might think.

What is a rich, famous, successful, divorced—and lonely—British TV scriptwriter to do when a high-profile interview in London’s Sunday papers turns out to be a scathing indictment of his shallowness and vanity, not to mention his piggish treatment of women? Well, if the scriptwriter is Sam Sharp, who’s heading for L.A. that very morning for some splashy studio work, the answer is this: quickly work up a revenge scenario, the first step being, on the way to the airport, to drop in on your oldest friend, the once-promising but now fallow novelist Adrian Ludlow and Adrian’s attractive wife Eleanor. Sam’s idea: if only Adrian will consent to be interviewed by the same famous but malicious journalist who so disastrously interviewed Sam, Adrian could, well, gather his own information, and, turning the tables, publish a scathing indictment of—ah, yes, of the infamous Fanny Tarrant, who, appearing at Adrian’s house to interview him on the appointed day, turns out to be young, pretty, intelligent, and curiously captivating to Adrian, who will, indeed, tell her far too much, revealing elements of his past that in intertwined ways implicate not only Sam but also unsuspecting wife Eleanor. How could he have done it? And how will all end? On that Sunday morning when the damaging interview is to appear, the reader will be every bit as much on chair’s edge as are Adrian and Eleanor—and will be every bit as surprised, and perhaps as moved, by the outcome.

A deft bit of Lodgian satire of writers, media, and writing—with teeth as sharp as ever, but also with a heart, however little be the book, that’s great, large, and full.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-14-029180-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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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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