Spare, matter-of-fact and masterfully controlled, this is a novel as noteworthy for what it leaves out—politics, purpose for...

FOUR SOLDIERS

Four young soldiers find comfort and a sense of belonging with each other that at least one of them has never experienced before.

French novelist Mingarelli (A Meal in Winter, 2016, etc.) focuses tightly on a winter in 1919 when the Red Army is encamped near a forest while awaiting the spring that will surely bring the battalion’s movement and the resumption of violence within the Russian civil war. The first-person narrator is named Benia, though the reader doesn’t learn this until almost a third of the way through the novel, within the dialogue he recounts. The first chapter shows how quickly, coincidentally, and almost accidentally he bonded first with another young soldier, then another, and then with a fourth they recruited. “I thought to myself: That’s it, I’m not alone in the world any more,” he says. “And I was right.” The reader learns little about Benia, perhaps because Benia doesn’t think there is much worth knowing. He's an orphan who had little sense of connection or purpose before joining the army and being sent to the Romanian front. There, he meets Pavel, another young soldier, who changes Benia's life when he says, “Let’s stay together.” The narrator intuits that Pavel is smarter, more experienced, and more of a leader, a contrast underlined when Pavel subsequently befriends the larger and more impulsive Kyabine, who will do the heavy lifting for the group, and the more compassionate and intuitive Sifra, who says little and reveals less of himself than the others. Though the winter is harsh, its interlude is almost idyllic, at least in terms of what the four men know is coming—the endless march toward violence. They find a pond that they keep secret from the others. They pass around a watch that has a woman’s face, which they consider lucky. They play dice games, gamble with cigarettes, share meager rations. They are joined by another, whose intrusion changes the dynamic. And then they are ordered to move, and Pavel insists, “Where we’re going there won’t be any good moments, because all that is behind us now.” And he is right, as the foursome’s bond cannot survive.

Spare, matter-of-fact and masterfully controlled, this is a novel as noteworthy for what it leaves out—politics, purpose for fighting, anything that reflects on the world at large—as for what it includes.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-440-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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?

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NORMAL PEOPLE

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. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more