Intensely humane and elegantly written.


A Booker finalist examines the calamity of addiction in 1970s London.

Colette Jones’s family has an alcohol problem. Her brother Janus Brian is satisfied with homemade liqueurs until his wife dies, at which point he turns to gin and—on one occasion—shoe polish. Her eldest brother, Lesley, drinks only at the pub, but when he does, he does so until he falls down (possibly naked from the waist down). Her daughter Juliette is married to a butcher whose Socialist politics are fueled by massive quantities of ale. And Colette herself begins each day with a barley wine and ends it with sleeping pills (now that she’s no longer sniffing glue). The family members without drinking problems of their own are plagued by the habits of their loved ones. The real troublemaker, though, is Colette’s eldest son, Janus. His alcoholism is epic, entrenched and utterly corrosive. Colette, her brothers and her son-in-law drink for solace and sociability, but Janus’s need runs soul-deep, and if the emptiness he is trying to fill is never explicitly defined, it is nevertheless undeniable. An unpredictable and sometimes violent drunk, Janus circumscribes and damages the lives of everyone around him, and his self-destruction is as inevitable as it is sad and a bit of a relief. This tale is tragic, but it’s also funny and touching. Woodward depicts his wounded characters with unalloyed honesty. Colette and her family are prodigious drinkers, but they are neither grotesques nor cartoons, and their stories unfold without unseemly drama or a sense of voyeurism. Woodward is absolutely unsentimental, and he makes no excuses for his characters—but his unflinching, dispassionate attention is itself a kind of grace.

Intensely humane and elegantly written.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-32800-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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