A quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.

LITTLE

This historical novel explores Revolutionary Paris through the fictionalized eyes of the orphan who grew up to become Madame Tussaud.

Born in a little Alsatian village in 1761, Anne Marie Grosholtz—called Marie—inherits her mother’s large Roman nose, her father’s large, upturned chin, and little else. Marie’s widowed mother dies soon after taking a job as housekeeper to Doctor Curtius, a physician who makes wax models of organs and body parts. Little Marie moves to Paris with Curtius, where he opens a wax museum and trains her as his assistant. There, they sculpt first the heads of philosophes, then famous murderers, and eventually victims of the guillotine. (Those make for much more portable models, being detached from their bodies.) Marie’s fortunes rise and fall with the politics of the era: She becomes an art tutor to Louis XVI’s sister Elisabeth, then spends a stint in the Carmes Prison (where she shares a cell with the future Josephine Bonaparte). Carey (Lungdon, 2015, etc.) channels the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and the Brothers Grimm to tell Marie’s tale, populating it with grotesques and horrors worthy of Madame Tussaud’s celebrated wax museum. Little drawings punctuate the text, like Boz’s cartoons in Dickens’ books; Carey’s rumination on wax recalls Dickens’ on dust. In Carey’s hands, life blurs with death, nature with artifice; his objects seem as animated as people while his people can appear as fragile and impotent as objects. Dolls, houses, carts, furniture, tailors’ dummies, and, of course, waxworks have human feelings: “I had never before considered that carriage clocks could be disapproving, nor had I supposed a candelabra might resent lighting me. I had never stepped upon a carpet that did not wish me there, nor felt the enmity of a marble mantelpiece. Nor had I come upon a gold-braided stool whose fat little feet seemed aimed at my ankles. Not before I entered this room.” Curtius “seemed made of rods, of broom handles, of great lengths.” This artful anthropomorphism (and its opposite) perfectly suits a novel about that most lifelike medium of sculpture, wax—and its most famous modeler.

A quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53432-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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