An uneven mix of charm, melodrama, polemics, and cliché that doesn’t represent the prolific Shafak at her best.

In a novel circling a murdered woman's last moments as she recalls key incidents from her life, Shafak (The Three Daughters of Eve, 2017, etc.) highlights Turkish society’s treatment of women and outsiders.

Tequila Leila, a middle-aged sex worker, lingers at the border between life and death inside a metal garbage can on the fringes of Istanbul—to which Turkish-born Shafak has written a highly ambivalent love letter; lyrical prose embraces the sensual, sordid, and corrupt city she no longer visits for political reasons. Speaking of sensual, Leila’s final minutes are structured around remembered tastes, from the salt on her skin as a newborn to the single malt whiskey sipped with her last customer before recklessly getting into a car with strangers. The flavor of watermelon returns her to a childhood complicated by confusion over her birth mother’s identity and irreparably damaged by an uncle’s repeated sexual abuse beginning when she was 6  in 1953. In 1963 Leila faced an arranged marriage while mourning her younger brother’s death, events associated with goat stew. Instead she ran 1,000 miles away from her hometown to Istanbul and was quickly trapped into prostitution. More taste memories follow her life as a sex worker as well as her happy marriage to a leftist artist, cut short by his death during a protest march. Tastes also represent the five friends central to Leila’s life and their individual stories of being mistreated, victimized, and/or made to feel invisible. Sexual abuse, political corruption, and religious fundamentalists’ intolerance have been the tropes in so many Shafak novels that her outrage here, however heartfelt, feels shopworn. And her plotting can be overwrought. Yet Shafak's ability to create empathy for her cast of sex workers and social outcasts can be irresistible, especially when a character is allowed more complexity, like Leila’s oldest friend, Sinan, who hid his love for Leila until her death.

An uneven mix of charm, melodrama, polemics, and cliché that doesn’t represent the prolific Shafak at her best.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-447-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019


The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000



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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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