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NORWEGIAN WOOD

A contemporary equivalent of This Side of Paradise or Vile Bodies, and another solid building-block in one of contemporary...

A first US appearance of a novel originally published in 1987, this crisp portrayal of “flaming youth” in the late 1960s proves one of Murakami’s most appealing—if uncharacteristic—books.

Best known to us as the comic surrealist-symbolist author of such rousing postmodernist fare as A Wild Sheep Chase (1989), Murakami is also a highly intelligent romantic who feels the pangs of his protagonist Toru Watanabe’s insistent sexual and intellectual hungers and renders them with unsparing clarity (the matter-of-fact sexual frankness here seems unusual for a Japanese novel, even a 1987 one).Toru’s narrative of his student years, lived out against a backdrop of ongoing “campus riots,” focuses on the lessons he learns from relationships with several highly individual characters, two of them women he simultaneously loves (or thinks he loves). Mercurial Naoko, who clearly perceives the seeds of her own encroaching madness (“It’s like I’m split in two and playing tag with myself”), continues to tug away at Toru’s emotions even after she enters a sanatorium. Meanwhile, coy fellow student Midori tries to dispel shadows cast by her parents’ painful deaths by fantasizing and simulating—though never actually experiencing—sex with him. Other perspectives on Toru’s hard-won assumption of maturity are offered by older student Nagasawa (“a secret reader of classic novels,” and a compulsive seducer); Naoko’s roommate Reiko, a music teacher (and self-styled interpreter of such Beatles’ songs as the one that provides Murakami’s evocative title) who’s perhaps also her lesbian lover; and the specter of Toru’s boyhood friend Kizuki, a teenaged suicide. There’s a lot of talk about books (particularly Fitzgerald’s and Hesse’s) and other cultural topics, in a blithely discursive and meditative story that’s nevertheless firmly anchored to the here and now by the vibrant immediacy of its closely observed characters and their quite credibly conflicted psyches and libidos.

A contemporary equivalent of This Side of Paradise or Vile Bodies, and another solid building-block in one of contemporary fiction’s most energetic and impressive bodies of work.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70402-7

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Awards & Accolades

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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