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CASE STUDY

A brisk and engaging novel that wears itself thin on the grindstone of its own conceit.

A provocative send-up of midcentury British mores and the roots of modern psychotherapy.

Toward the end of 2019, GMB, a character with the author's initials, receives an email from one Martin Grey, who has in his possession several notebooks he believes GMB might find of interest. Mr. Grey asserts that the notebooks were written by his cousin about Collins Braithwaite, the notorious and now largely forgotten “enfant terrible of the so-called anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s,” on whom GMB has recently published a blog post. According to Grey, the notebooks contain evidence of near-criminal misconduct concerning Braithwaite’s involvement in the suicide of the diarist’s older sister, Veronica. GMB’s research assures him of the notebooks’ authenticity, if not their veracity, and he presents their contents verbatim, interspersed with sections of his own outline of Braithwaite’s salacious life and ignoble death. From the plinth of this metatextual introduction, the book dives into the “kooky élan” of a thoroughly middle-class young woman—the diarist—as she infiltrates Braithwaite’s office under the nom de guerre Rebecca Smyth. Rebecca is bent on uncovering the truth about Braithwaite’s therapeutic practice though she’s unsure what purpose this truth would serve. However, over the course of the five notebooks, Rebecca’s rapid descent into true depression coupled with her increasing difficulty in keeping her original identity separate from her assumed self become the driving narrative. As the novel progresses, the author’s layering of his fictional characters’ unverifiable testimony, frank deception, and self-aggrandizing half-truths with significant historical figures of the time—like R.D. Laing and Dirk Bogarde—and GMB's omnipresent frame narrative overlap to the extent that it's hard to tell not just whose perception to trust, but which among all these counterfeit identities is real. As beguiling as Rebecca’s wry domestic critique can be, the book’s star is clearly the carefully constructed unreliability Burnet imbues at every level of his writing. This results in a novel that strives toward the biggest of questions—in the absence of the Cartesian ego Braithwaite seeks to slay, is there anything at all underneath our masks?—but lacks the character-driven empathy that would encourage us to care about the answer.

A brisk and engaging novel that wears itself thin on the grindstone of its own conceit.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-77196-520-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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SWAN SONG

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

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A stranger comes to town, and a beloved storyteller plays this creative-writing standby for all it’s worth.

Hilderbrand fans, a vast and devoted legion, will remember Blond Sharon, the notorious island gossip. In what is purportedly the last of the Nantucket novels, Blond Sharon decides to pursue her lifelong dream of fiction writing. In the collective opinion of the island—aka the “cobblestone telegraph”—she’s qualified. “Well, we think, she’s certainly demonstrated her keen interest in other people’s stories, the seedier and more salacious, the better.” Blond Sharon’s first assignment in her online creative writing class is to create a two-person character study, and Hilderbrand has her write up the two who arrive on the ferry in an opening scene of the book, using the same descriptors Hilderbrand has. Amusingly, the class is totally unimpressed. “‘I found it predictable,’ Willow said. ‘Like maybe Sharon used ChatGPT with the prompt “Write a character study about two women getting off the ferry, one prep and one punk.”’” Blond Sharon abandons these characters, but Hilderbrand thankfully does not. They are Kacy Kapenash, daughter of retiring police chief Ed Kapenash (the other swan song referred to by the title), and her new friend Coco Coyle, who has given up her bartending job in the Virgin Islands to become a “personal concierge” for the other strangers-who-have-come-to-town. These are the Richardsons, Bull and Leslee, a wild and wealthy couple who have purchased a $22 million beachfront property and plan to take Nantucket by storm. As the book opens, their house has burned down during an end-of-summer party on their yacht, and Coco is missing, feared both responsible for the fire and dead. Though it’s the last weekend of his tenure, Chief Ed refuses to let the incoming chief, Zara Washington, take this one over. The investigation goes forward in parallel with a review of the summer’s intrigues, love affairs, and festivities. Whatever else you can say about Leslee Richardson, she knows how to throw a party, and Hilderbrand is just the writer to design her invitations, menus, themes, playlists, and outfits. And that hot tub!

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780316258876

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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