Readers who wade through the slowly paced narrative may appreciate its rich historical detail and lavish descriptions of the...

THE SEA GARDEN

In three loosely connected novellas, Lawrenson (The Lantern, 2011) has created a tale of love and mystery with shifting characters, eras, locations and tones.

Award-winning landscape designer Ellie Brooke is on a ferry to Porquerolles, a French Mediterranean island, when a young man goes overboard in an apparent suicide. That event sets the tone for her brief 2013 visit. Ellie has been asked to restore a memorial garden, but she's gripped with foreboding as a mysterious man appears and disappears and nightmares invade her sleep. Forced to stay the night at her host’s estate, she meets the garden’s owner, a crazy old woman; decides to reject the job; then unwisely returns the next day to retrieve a lost item. Years earlier, during the closing months of World War II, 20-ish blind woman Marthe Lincel lives with the Musset family and works in their perfume and soap refinery. The Nazis have occupied Provence, but the Musset family is allowed to continue production. Although many consider them Nazi sympathizers, they actually serve in the Resistance. Putting her Braille expertise to use, Marthe joins the movement, and when a key member fails to return from a mission, Marthe volunteers to replace her. Her courageous actions—and a chance meeting with an American soldier the Musset family is trying to move out of the country—change her future. Also participating in the war effort, Iris Nightingale is a junior intelligence officer in London who finds herself in close contact with operatives flying into and out of France. She becomes romantically involved with Frenchman Xavier Descours, who then goes on a mission and never returns. Obsessed with uncovering information about his life and fate, Iris searches for answers and, years later, discovers the truth.

Readers who wade through the slowly paced narrative may appreciate its rich historical detail and lavish descriptions of the French coastline, but the revelations that weave the three stories together are anticlimactic and disappointing.

Pub Date: June 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-227966-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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