More than capably written, and redeemed by many stunning moments, but a little too rigorously staged to be fully convincing.

AFTERIMAGE

The presence of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre—as both this novel's partial inspiration and its heroine's own favorite book—adds considerable romantic-gothic flavor to a leisurely tale of a young maidservant's enlightening and disillusioning "education."

When Annie Phelan, orphaned and condemned to a life of "service" by the Irish Potato Famine, arrives at the English country home of the Dashells, she's eyed warily by fellow servants envious of her delicate beauty and appropriated by her mistress Isabelle, a photographer (modeled on Victorian Julia Margaret Cameron) given to "arranging" nearby people on various classical and literary poses. The initially reluctant Annie "becomes" Isabelle's Guinevere, Ophelia, Sappho, and Madonna. Meanwhile, Annie finds herself in a virtual friendship with Isabelle's docile husband Eldon, a scholarly cartographer who allows Annie (a devout reader) the use of his library and confides to her his unrealized ambition: he had "wanted to be a great adventurer" and explorer, but settled instead for devising "a themed map of the world" for a publisher of atlases. Humphreys (Leaving Earth, 1998) turns the Dashells' loveless marriage and burden of sorrow (three stillborn babies, and no living children) into a lucid but awfully undramatic debate about the nature and utility of artistic and factual representations of reality—so much so that when Eldon's frustrations overpower his reason and Isabelle's stunted maternal longings are subsumed into her growing intimacy with Annie, the sudden consequent surges of emotion seem out of keeping with the story's carefully managed restraint. As a result, its climactic surprises feel forced, and involve the reader far less than do incidental vivid glimpses into Annie's confused mind and heart, and an array of beautiful images (notably the richly suggestive one of a winged boy falling out of the sky).

More than capably written, and redeemed by many stunning moments, but a little too rigorously staged to be fully convincing.

Pub Date: April 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-8050-6666-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

Did you like this book?

more