Intelligent, reflective, satisfying fiction from an old master.

OLD LOVEGOOD GIRLS

Veteran Godwin’s latest (Grief Cottage, 2017, etc.) tracks a half-century friendship between two very different yet oddly compatible women.

The dean and dorm mistress of Lovegood College pair Feron Hood and Merry Jellicoe as roommates in 1958, hoping that sunny, outgoing Merry will be a steadying influence on Feron, who has recently lost her alcoholic mother and fled from an abusive stepfather. The girls do indeed form a lasting bond even though Merry leaves after a single semester to run the family tobacco farm when her parents are killed in a plane crash. They have both taken their first steps as writers under the guidance of Literature and Composition teacher Maud Petrie, and during their mostly long-distance relationship, Feron will be goaded to write three novels by Merry’s occasional magazine publications; she is at work on a fourth about their friendship as the book closes. The two women rarely meet in person, and Feron is bad about answering letters, but we see that they remain important in each other’s thoughts. Godwin unfolds their stories in a meditative, elliptical fashion, circling back to reveal defining moments that include tragic losses, unexpected love, and nurturing friendships. Self-contained, uncommunicative Feron seems the more withholding character, but Merry voices one of the novel’s key insights: “Everyone has secrets no one else should know” while Feron reveals essential truths about her life in her novels. Maud Petrie and Lovegood dean Susan Fox, each of whom has secrets of her own, continue as strong presences for Feron and Merry, who have been shaped by Lovegood more enduringly than they might have anticipated. Feron’s courtly Uncle Rowan and blunt Aunt Mabel, Merry’s quirky brother Ritchie, devoted manager Mr. Jack, and a suave Navy veteran with intimate links to both women are among the many nuanced characters drawn by Godwin with their human contradictions and complexities on full display. A closing letter from Dean Fox movingly reiterates the novel’s conjoined themes of continuity and change.

Intelligent, reflective, satisfying fiction from an old master.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63286-822-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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