Altogether, a gripping piece of travelogue fiction spiked with an unnerving amount of psychological tension. Just right for...

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CUBA

A nice married couple from Brighton take a year’s sabbatical to Cuba only to have their not-quite-as-nice neighbor from home turn up there as well.

With this third outing, Barr (Baggage, 2002, etc.) further claims the very little niche that she’s carved out for herself. Her novels take a couple of young British girls with an itch to travel and throws them into situations that (1) they’re hideously unprepared for and (2) bring the unspoken tensions in their friendships into sharp and explosive relief—Alex Garland for girls. The tale this time modifies the template slightly by adding another couple into the equation: young professionals David and Libby. Libby has given up her high-stress but remunerative law position to raise their infant son Charlie, leaving her in the housewife’s trap: glad to be around her child but also uncontrollably bored and bitter. Meantime, David has the travel bug and convinces Libby to come with him on a yearlong trip to Havana. The story’s ticking time bomb is their neighbor Maggie, a pale wraith of sadness with a baby fixation so advanced she buys a set of baby monitors just so she can listen in on conversations in David and Libby’s apartment. Maggie (a stripper who tells everyone that she works for American Express) befriends David and Libby just before they leave for Cuba, imagining herself Libby’s best friend and David’s new lover—and then decides to tag along. Once in Havana, Maggie’s plan is spoiled somewhat by the arrival of her leggy, gorgeous friend Yasmin, who has a good grasp of Maggie’s fragile mental state and what she’s capable of. Barr could have quite easily turned all of this into a simple stalker scenario, but fortunately she resists the impulse (most of the time: the baby-in-distress climax might be a little too yuppies-in-peril for many tastes).

Altogether, a gripping piece of travelogue fiction spiked with an unnerving amount of psychological tension. Just right for the backpacker set.

Pub Date: April 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-452-28503-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2004

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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