A thought-provoking, smartly told story that brings philosophy, medicine, and neuroscience into boardroom and bedroom.

DOUBLE BLIND

St. Aubyn moves on from a troubled King Lear type (Dunbar, 2017) to characters with greater problems still concerning life, death, and figuring out how much caviar and cocaine are enough.

This is a novel of ideas—more specifically, the idea that somehow the world can be saved, whether through rewilding a patch of English forest or employing virtual reality to battle schizophrenia. Everyone involved represents an aspect of mind, from Sebastian, a young man battling mental illness, to Lucy, a principal player who has a frightening encounter with a tumor. Her sympathetic surgeon is of help: When Lucy, brilliant at both science and business, asks if she should avoid any kind of activity, given her condition, he replies, “My only advice is not to drink a case of champagne and go swimming at night in shark-infested waters.” That’s good advice under any circumstances. Lucy swims in the sharky waters of venture capital, working for a man suggestively named Hunter Sterling, who uses his brain and infinite fortune both to execute forward-looking mergers and acquisitions and to explore just about every narcotic there is, a habit that opens the way for moments of bad personal judgment and vulnerability, as when a greedy associate, urged by his wife and sensing the boss’s addictive behavior, tries to engineer a financial coup: “Money had turned his nervously cheerful, basically shy, nerd of a wife into Lady Macbeth.” Even the pure-hearted, ecological character called Francis—think Assisi, which figures in St. Aubyn’s elegant, carefully plotted tale—isn’t above the human fray; he’s ostensibly the faithful lover of Olivia, Lucy’s best friend, but he gets tangled up with a rich investor, which gives the story a bit of erotic frisson and some attention to our vile bodies just at a time when the characters are exploring the higher mysteries of the mind. More humorous but just as intellectually inclined as Richard Powers and David Mitchell, among other contemporaries, St. Aubyn explores human foibles even as he brilliantly takes up headier issues of the human brain in sickness and in health.

A thought-provoking, smartly told story that brings philosophy, medicine, and neuroscience into boardroom and bedroom.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-28219-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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