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THE CONQUEROR

Think of it as Kafka-meets-Billy Connolly, and you’re almost there. Sly, intelligent and a pleasure for fans of...

From Norwegian novelist and short-story writer Kjærstad, a gloomy investigation of how the past spills into the present, and why otherwise nice Norwegians would be moved to murder. This book is the second volume in the Wergeland trilogy.

Back in the day, Jonas Wergeland was an inquisitive student, brilliant, capable of speculating that “Dante’s observations on the celestial spheres, based on Ptolemy’s theories, were at least as right or wrong as the theories about the universe with which he was confronted in his astrophysical studies.” Alas, it’s the here and now, and Jonas is a television personality, the most popular in all of Norway. The here and now doesn’t always agree with him; when we meet Wergeland, early in the pages of this sprawling postmodern whodunit, our hero, breast-obsessed (“it’s a long story altogether, that of men and breasts”) and bewildered, is being copiously sick, feeling “as if he were spewing over Oslo, over the whole of Norway, in fact.” Wergeland has reason to feel ill over the course of much of this novel, and it’s not just from all the aquavit; his wife, Margrete, has been shot dead in the first volume of the trilogy, The Seducer, and all fingers point at him. Ironically titled, The Conqueror finds Wergeland on trial for murder, and, more than that, being examined by a curious biographer who hits hard walls at every turn in the maze that is Wergeland’s life. “For so it is,” writes Kjærstad, “even though life is lived forward, it is always understood backward.” Kjærstad takes the occasion of Wergeland’s pickle to ponder the meaning of memory, reality, justice, sex and being Norwegian (“To be a Norwegian is to express indignation at an unfair distribution of the assets that a society has created collectively”), all in elegant prose shot through with puckish humor—and leaving off on a cliffhanger that will await the third volume in the trilogy (titled The Discoverer, it will be published in the United States by Open Letter in 2009) for resolution.

Think of it as Kafka-meets-Billy Connolly, and you’re almost there. Sly, intelligent and a pleasure for fans of philosophically inclined literature.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-934824-03-0

Page Count: 482

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE SILENT PATIENT

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

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A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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