This tale of a madness as terrifying as it is logical, simple and classical in its tragic lines, is also a complex rendering...


An embittered young woman journeys to a small island in the Scottish Hebrides to confront her past, by murdering the mother who abandoned her as a newborn, in Rogers's brooding, furiously powerful tale (Mr. Wroe’s Virgins, 1999, etc.).

She calls herself Nikki Black, but when her mother left her, in 1968, at the door of a London post office, her name was Susan Lovage. At 29, after years of foster homes and being asked to move on, of learning how to be manipulative and never being quite good enough at it, and after failure upon failure, for hard-boiled Nikki her life has but a single defining moment: being dropped on the doorstep. She hates her birth mother with a warped passion, and when she finally manages to track her down, she all but salivates at the prospect of killing her. The Hebridean island where Mumsy Phyllis lives, Aysaar, is not hard to reach, and Nikki easily takes a room at her house with no one the wiser, but here the plot thickens: Nikki meets her younger half-brother. Calum is an innocent, simple-minded man, content to do little more than comb the shore and collect everything he finds into huge piles around his house, but in him are stories and fables galore, eager to be told. As he takes Nikki exploring all over the island and they pour out of him, she learns also that he has had trouble with Phyllis, an aloof, controlling figure, an herbalist slowly being ravaged by cancer. With her murderous scheme now modified to take Calum away from Phyllis before killing her, Nikki, in a confused state, tries to seduce her brother. From that point on, however, all her feverishly laid plans go awry.

This tale of a madness as terrifying as it is logical, simple and classical in its tragic lines, is also a complex rendering of the art of storytelling, where history and invention seem to purposefully converge, each to transform the other.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2000

ISBN: 1-58567-076-6

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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