A stifling, dismaying tale of upper-class dysfunction elegantly told.

A PERFECT EXPLANATION

Enid Campbell never wanted to marry, but her aristocratic family needs an heir—and after her brother is killed in World War I, it falls to Enid to produce one. This pressure will lead to cascades of unhappiness down the generations.

Poisoned, splintered relationships characterize this saga of upper-class life in 1920s Britain, radiating outward from the fallible Enid, whose discomfort as a daughter, sister, and mother dominates events. Favored by her father, who also died early, Enid makes a questionable marriage to Douglas, “a nobody, a nothing,” and then has a son, Fagus, who's "born with something wrong with him" and becomes an invalid after falling down the stairs, turning the child into “the living breathing embodiment of everything she’d done wrong.” Loveless though her marriage is, Enid stays in it to provide a fully able heir, although she would rather be a nun or devote herself to her Christian Science beliefs. Two more children are born, but the pressure and postnatal depression are too much, and Enid flees, leaving her sister, Joan, and Joan's "companion," Pat, to step in. Anstruther’s debut, a fictionalized version of her own family’s history, is a dark story of close relationships gone awry. Enid’s stony, withering mother, Sybil, was always closer to Joan; Enid believes Joan hates her; Enid’s daughter, Finetta, believes her mother hates her and neglects her own daughter in turn while feeling crushing love for her son. For all the sophistication of tone and expression to be found in the book, the familial relationships emerge naked, brutal—and gender biased. Anstruther depicts a privileged world that offers little in the way of human warmth and a group of characters almost uniformly miserable despite their material comfort. It makes for a chilly read, its gloom only deepened by a running 1964 episode in which an elderly Enid is confronted by the measure of her failure.

A stifling, dismaying tale of upper-class dysfunction elegantly told.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-12085-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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