There’s a lovely payoff after the miles of twists and turns. It’s work getting there but work of a thoroughly pleasant kind.

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THE LUMINARIES

A layered, mannered, beguiling yarn, longlisted for the Booker Prize, by New Zealander novelist Catton.

When Walter Moody arrives on a “wild shard of the Coast”—that of the then-remote South Island—in late January 1866, he discovers that strange doings are afoot: A local worthy has disappeared, a local belle de nuit has tried to do herself in, the town drunk turns out to possess a fortune against all odds, and the whole town is mumbling, murmuring and whispering like Sweethaven in Robert Altman’s Popeye. Indeed, when Moody walks into his hotel on that—yes, dark and stormy—night, he interrupts a gathering of 12 local men who are trying to get to the bottom of the matter. Moody, as it turns out, is trained as a lawyer—“By training only,” he demurs, “I have not yet been called to the Bar”—but, like everyone else, has been lured to the wild by the promise of gold. It is gold in all its glory that fuels this tale, though other goods figure, too, some smuggled in by the very phantom bark that has deposited Moody on the island. Catton’s long opening, in which the narrative point of view ping-pongs among these 13 players and more, sets the stage for a chronologically challenging tale in which mystery piles atop mystery. Catton writes assuredly and with just the right level of flourish: “He was thinking of Sook Yongsheng, lying cold on the floor inside—his chin and throat smeared with boot-black, his eyebrows thickened, like a clown.” She blends elements of Victorian adventure tale, ghost story, detective procedural à la The Moonstone and shaggy dog tale to produce a postmodern tale to do Thomas Pynchon or Julio Cortázar proud; there are even echoes of Calvino in the author’s interesting use of both astronomy and astrology. The possibilities for meta cleverness and archness are endless, and the whole business is too smart by half, but Catton seems mostly amused by her concoction, and that’s just right. About the only fault of the book is its unending length: There’s not an ounce of flab in it, but it’s still too much for ordinary mortals to take in.

There’s a lovely payoff after the miles of twists and turns. It’s work getting there but work of a thoroughly pleasant kind.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-07431-5

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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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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