This imposingly intricate novel begins slowly, makes heavy demands on the reader, and rises to a stunningly dramatic...

THE DREAM OF SCIPIO

The truism that “The evil done by men of goodwill is the worst of all” is given memorable expression in this brilliantly constructed historical novel from the British author of the runaway success An Instance of the Fingerpost (1998).

The title denotes a treatise on Neoplatonism composed by Manlius, a fifth-century (b.c.) nobleman and intellectual living in what would become known as Provence, who made it his mission to oppose “civilized values” to the threat of “barbarism”—through his scholarship, and also by securing a bishopric, then raising armies to protect Rome from invasion. The complex failure of Manlius’s own “dream” is juxtaposed against two parallel stories, which are literally linked to the history of his manuscript and whose protagonists suffer the corruption of their own ideals in hauntingly similar fashion. The 14th-century poet Olivier de Noyen, a collector of manuscripts for the flamboyant Avignon papacy, heroically resists the machinations employed by Pope Clement VI to turn popular hatred of Jews into an explanation for the Black Plague as divine punishment—and pays a horrific price for his commitment to moral action. And in the years of WWII, as “Free France” succumbs to German invasion, historian Julien Barneuve (whose studies have led him to Manlius’s text, preserved through de Noyen’s efforts) reluctantly becomes “a censor and a propagandist” for a government that seizes on anti-Semitism to ensure its own survival—and is consumed in a personal holocaust. Each of the three men is ennobled, and victimized, by his love for a woman chosen to be sacrificed for a “greater good.” And each endures a separation illustrating the Platonic concept that virtue is wholeness, evil the violent sundering of an ideal unity of harmonized parts.

This imposingly intricate novel begins slowly, makes heavy demands on the reader, and rises to a stunningly dramatic crescendo. Pears has leapt to a new level, creating a novel of ideas even more suspenseful and revelatory than his justly acclaimed mysteries.

Pub Date: June 3, 2002

ISBN: 1-57322-202-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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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

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