Kick off your shoes, lean back in your favorite chair—and make sure your thinking cap stays securely in place. The Music of...

THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES

A growing sense of intellectual excitement pervades this richly imagined and densely plotted debut, a worthy companion to such successful literary historical fiction as Iain Pears’s An Instance of the Fingerpost and Matthew G. Kneale’s English Passengers.

It’s set in London in 1795, a time when England fears invasion by the armies of France’s newly empowered Republican government. Accordingly, Home Office clerk Jonathan Absey is assigned the task of seeking out French spies who may be smuggling vital military information back across the Channel. But that duty is interrupted by Absey’s obsessive quest for the uncaught killer of his 18-year-old daughter—whose fate is echoed in a series of recent murders of young street prostitutes. Absey forcibly enlists the aid of his guilt-ridden half-brother Alexander Wilmot, a homosexual choirmaster and amateur astronomer, when incriminating evidence points to the “Company of Titius,” a group of exiled French Royalists, themselves astronomers, and rumored to be investigating the possibility of a missing planet hidden somewhere in our solar system. Redfern uses this promising metaphor skillfully, introducing one vivid, suspicious character after another: emotionally deranged (and quite possibly psychotic) Guy de Montpellier and his dangerously beautiful sister Auguste; Pierre Raultier, the physician who betrays his own ideals to serve the Montpelliers; Auguste’s “silent satyr” and lover, mysteriously mute William Carline; secretive “spectacle-maker” Perceval Oates; young whore Rose Brennan, who may know more than she’s telling—and numerous other members of the un-landed aristocracy, the rival nations’ governments, and the Company of Titius. The story changes directions deftly when Absey comes to suspect that coded messages are being sent to France under the cover of an elaborate “table of planetary distances,” and a sequence of melodramatic climactic intrigues is set in motion. Only Redfern’s tendency to overexplain (perhaps understandable: the novel is loaded with specific information) and her rather heavy hand with expository detail interrupt the narrative’s breathless pace and delicious complexity.

Kick off your shoes, lean back in your favorite chair—and make sure your thinking cap stays securely in place. The Music of the Spheres demands an attentive ear, even as its multiple harmonies enchant and satisfy the senses.

Pub Date: July 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14763-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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