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THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE

On a canvas stretched from Manchuria to Malta, and with sound effects from strange birdcalls to sleigh bells in cyberspace,...

Not merely a big book from the broadly respected Murakami (Dance Dance Dance, 1994, etc.), but a major work bringing signature themes of alienation, dislocation, and nameless fears through the saga of a gentle man forced to trade the familiar for the utterly unknown.

Narrator Toru Okada quit his law-office job in Tokyo. Then he and his wife Kumiko lost their cat. Then Kumiko goes to work one day, and he never sees her again. The loss is overwhelming, but when two psychic sisters take an interest in Okada, to the point of entering his dreams, and a teenage neighbor shares with him her obsession with death, to the point of almost killing him, Okada realizes he's into something over his head. Of course, if he hadn't climbed into the dry well of a nearby vacant house, the teenager wouldn't have had a chance to get at him—and neither would he have had an out-of-body experience that left him with a bluish mark the size of a baby's palm on his cheek. And if he hadn't heard the chilling reminiscence of an old soldier who'd been thrown by his captors into a well in the Mongolian desert at the start of WW II, he never would have wanted to see for himself what a well-bottom was like. And if he hadn't married Kumiko, he wouldn't have the ire of her powerful, venomous brother now turned on him. And yet even so, suddenly, subtly, Okada's fortunes change: Brought through the mark on his cheek into an alliance with another team of psychics, this one mother and son, he acquires the vacant house and its well- -and moves deliberately toward a confrontation with the evil that took Kumiko away and all but destroyed him.

On a canvas stretched from Manchuria to Malta, and with sound effects from strange birdcalls to sleigh bells in cyberspace, this is a fully mature, engrossing tale of individual and national destinies entwined. It will be hard to surpass.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-44669-9

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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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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