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HAVEN

More fine work from the talented Donoghue.

Three monks seek refuge from worldly temptation on a remote island off the Irish coast.

Great Skellig, a rocky outcrop with no groundwater and scant vegetation, is hardly a promising place to establish a settlement. This matters not at all to Brother Artt, focused on purity and piety to an extent that’s extreme even by the standards of the early Middle Ages. “Does God not visit those who love him in the wildest wastes?” he asks his two companions, who at first are awed by the holy man who has chosen them to serve him on this mission. Taking one of her regular breaks from contemporary fiction, Donoghue has left behind none of her ability to spin a compelling story and people it with sharp characterizations. Young Trian, given to a monastery by his parents at age 13 for an unnamed defect, grows in confidence on the island and becomes increasingly sullen about the endless copying of sacred manuscripts at the expense of pressing tasks like finding food. Elderly Cormac, who came to the cloistered life after the death of his wife and children, has myriad practical skills and an engaging love of storytelling; Christianity for him seems to be a series of marvelous yarns. But even resourceful Cormac struggles to keep the trio alive as winter approaches and Artt’s demands grow increasingly onerous: They must build an altar before a shelter to sleep in; he forbids trade with nearby islands for desperately needed supplies as a source of sinful contamination. Generating narrative tension from a minimum of action, Donoghue brings the monks’ conflicts to a climax when Trian falls ill and a long-kept secret is revealed. Artt’s bigoted response provokes a confrontation that brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion. Reminiscent of Room (2010) in its portrayal of fraught interactions in a confined space, this medieval excursion lacks its bestselling predecessor’s broad appeal, but the author’s more adventurous fans will appreciate her skilled handling of challenging material.

More fine work from the talented Donoghue.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-41393-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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ALL FOURS

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

A woman set to embark on a cross-country road trip instead drives to a nearby motel and becomes obsessed with a local man.

According to Harris, the husband of the narrator of July’s novel, everyone in life is either a Parker or a Driver. “Drivers,” Harris says, “are able to maintain awareness and engagement even when life is boring.” The narrator knows she’s a Parker, someone who needs “a discrete task that seems impossible, something…for which they might receive applause.” For the narrator, a “semi-famous” bisexual woman in her mid-40s living in Los Angeles, this task is her art; it’s only by haphazard chance that she’s fallen into a traditional straight marriage and motherhood. When the narrator needs to be in New York for work, she decides on a solo road trip as a way of forcing herself to be more of a metaphorical Driver. She makes it all of 30 minutes when, for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she pulls over in Monrovia. After encountering a man who wipes her windows at a gas station and then chats with her at the local diner, she checks in to a motel, where she begins an all-consuming intimacy with him. For the first time in her life, she feels truly present. But she can only pretend to travel so long before she must go home and figure out how to live the rest of a life that she—that any woman in midlife—has no map for. July’s novel is a characteristically witty, startlingly intimate take on Dante’s “In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood”—if the dark wood were the WebMD site for menopause and a cheap room at the Excelsior Motel.

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 9780593190265

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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