Sharp, unsentimental tales from a writer haunted by her past.

LEARNING TO TALK

Reflections on an enigmatic childhood.

In seven deftly crafted stories that she calls “autoscopic” rather than autobiographical, two-time Man Booker Prize winner Mantel takes a “distant, elevated perspective” on her life growing up in the English Midlands region. Organized chronologically, most of the stories are narrated by a woman evolving an increasingly astute perception of her own reality and the truths obscured by family myths and lies. “All the tales arose out of questions I asked myself about my early years,” Mantel writes in her preface. “I cannot say that by sliding my life into a fictional form I was solving puzzles—but at least I was pushing the pieces about.” They read, then, as lightly fictionalized memoir. In fact, the last story, “Giving Up the Ghost,” acknowledges the author's memoir of the same title, published in 2003. Mantel’s family situation was peculiar: When she was about 7, her mother moved her lover into the house that she shared with her husband. For the next four years, Mantel lived with two fathers, aware of gossip about her mother’s scandalous behavior. Finally, her father left. In “Curved Is the Line of Beauty,” the lover is called Jack, with “sunburned skin and muscles beneath his shirt. He was your definition of a man, if a man was what caused alarm and shattered the peace.” Growing up was hardly peaceful: In “Learning To Talk” (“true save one or two real-life details”), the 13-year-old narrator is sent for elocution lessons, her provincial accent seen as a liability: “People were not supposed to worry about their accents, but they did worry, and tried to adapt their voices—otherwise they found themselves treated with a conscious cheeriness, as if they were bereaved or slightly deformed.” Mantel’s narrators are melancholy or resentful, misunderstood or ignored, vulnerable and cynical. “Mercy,” one observes, “was a theory that I had not seen in operation.”

Sharp, unsentimental tales from a writer haunted by her past.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-86536-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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