A bridge work that will hopefully lead to McBride’s next major novel.


The third novel from the unique Irish author.

After her dazzling debut, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (2014)—winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, among others—McBride took a slight step back in The Lesser Bohemians (though that book did win the 2016 James Tait Black Memorial Prize). In her latest, a slim book that could be considered a novella, the author yet again dives relentlessly into the interior of her unnamed protagonist, narrating her travels to anonymous hotels in Avignon, France, Prague, Oslo, Auckland, and Austin. In each locale, she drinks wine, smokes cigarettes, and engages in one-night stands and lengthy bouts of what she admits is “existential overindulgence,” desperately seeking to avoid any further thoughts of an unnamed trauma that she suffered in the past (likely the loss of the father of her child, referenced only obliquely at moments throughout the book). The narrative is focused almost entirely inward, structured like a lengthy interior monologue or self-negotiation that often grows claustrophobic. Consistently, the protagonist reverts to her “preferred manner in which to proceed. Thinking her way carefully around every instant. Grammatically and logically constructing it….Lining words up against words, then clause against clause until an agreeable distance has been reached from the initial, unmanageable impulse which first set them all in train.” It’s clear that the woman has endured significant emotional and spiritual pain. However, in relating her thoughts, she may be “relentlessly reshuffling the deck of pseudo-intellectual garble which...serves the solitary purpose of keeping the world at the far end of a very long sentence.” As in McBride's previous books, there are numerous sparks of singularly brilliant prose—e.g., “Outside the sky’s a horror of fight and bruise. Velour black, pumped with racket, gored by orange.” Ultimately, though, as the protagonist herself acknowledges, “the time for this digression is up. She should really be getting off this subject.” Readers will agree at many points in her story.

A bridge work that will hopefully lead to McBride’s next major novel.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-27062-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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