by Ian McEwan ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 13, 2016
Clever, likable, and yet unsatisfying, this tale too often bears out the narrator’s early claim: “I take in everything, even...
Speaking from the womb of his 28-year-old mother, this slim entertainment’s precocious narrator tells of sex and booze and something rotten in London.
The story covers a few days as pregnant Trudy and her lover, Claude, bumble through a plan to use a poisoned smoothie to kill John, who is her estranged husband, Claude’s brother, and the fetus’s father. The motives are, as always, love and money: the Trudy-Claude affair is fueled by the prospect of selling John’s valuable London town house. The lovers paint John as a failed and boring poet, while a protégé’s post-mortem testimony indicates otherwise. Blame the little guy inside, an inevitably unreliable narrator at nine months’ gestation. Of course, the contrivance of a fetus as docent is a tricky one even with a writer as resourceful as McEwan (The Children Act, 2014, etc.). It cries out for awkward, pace-killing explanations: how can the unborn know Ex, Why, and Zed? McEwan works to suspend disbelief by giving his narrator versions of the five senses and an intellect that ranges far beyond his human cell thanks to his mother’s affection for talk radio, “podcast lectures and self-improving audio books.” He also has a persuasive, down-to-earth voice, which somehow makes more palatable his many insights and observations that add flesh to a meager story. A bit more flesh (perhaps a pound) comes with McEwan’s suggestion of a 21st-century prequel to Hamlet, quickly signaled in the names of the chief characters, (Ger)Trudy and Claude(ius), their kinships and murder plot, and many another allusion pointing to Elsinore of yore. Catching those allusions can be a fun sort of parlor game, but what they add up to, if anything, is unclear.Clever, likable, and yet unsatisfying, this tale too often bears out the narrator’s early claim: “I take in everything, even the trivia—of which there is much.”
Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016
Page Count: 208
Review Posted Online: July 3, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016
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by Mark Z. Danielewski ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2000
The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...
An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.
Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad. The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized). As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses). Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture. Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly. One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.
Pub Date: March 6, 2000
Page Count: 704
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000
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by Lisa Jewell ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 24, 2018
Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.
Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.
Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.
Pub Date: April 24, 2018
Page Count: 368
Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018
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