Graphic in its violence but rich in history and psychology, this novel is vivid proof that “after the war, sometimes the war...

AFTER THE WAR

This is a bleak tale of personal vengeance set in Bordeaux, France, where memories of the German occupation remain fresh in the late 1950s as the country faces a new conflict in Algeria.

French writer Le Corre (Talking to Ghosts, 2014, etc.), known for his crime fiction, has the basics of the genre at work here while history supplies characters and motives. Andre Vaillant has returned to his hometown in Bordeaux in 1958 seeking revenge against Police Superintendent Albert Darlac, who betrayed him during World War II. In a plot with several narrative streams and expansive psychological portraits, Le Corre gradually reveals Vaillant’s experiences at Auschwitz and during a postwar period in Paris before he comes home with plans to hurt people tied to Darlac. Vaillant’s son, Daniel, whom he was forced to leave behind during the war, copes with military life in Algeria in some of the novel’s most compelling scenes. At the center of everything is the monstrous Darlac, who controls much of Bordeaux’s illicit activities with favors and sadism, as he did during the occupation, when “all cops were collaborators.” It’s an ambitious work, and Le Corre doesn’t entirely succeed in melding the many parts into a cohesive whole, but even somewhat digressive segments enrich characters and themes. Meanwhile, the police are busy with a string of murders, all blamed on Vaillant but not all committed by him. The other culprit is Darlac, who uses the investigation to mask killings he commits for his personal agenda: one cop, two henchmen, and two people close to home. He also beats and rapes his wife and barely controls his passion for their 15-year-old daughter. His unrelenting cruelty is excessive, as is Le Corre’s prose at times, but the writing is generally high-end noir or better and well served by the translation.

Graphic in its violence but rich in history and psychology, this novel is vivid proof that “after the war, sometimes the war continues.”

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60945-539-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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

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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

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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