This isn’t your typical fictionalized life of a writer—instead, it’s an unexpected meditation on the convergence of two...

MELVILLE

This lyrical novel reimagines Herman Melville’s life and adds a hauntingly atmospheric spin.

There are many novels that have fictionalized the lives of notable writers. In the case of this 1941 book—now appearing in English for the first time—the overlap between author and subject runs deeper than most. Giono is known for his French translation, with Lucien Jacques, of Moby-Dick. This novel was originally intended as the preface for that larger work but quickly became its own distinct entity. Edmund White's introduction helpfully contextualizes this novel within Giono’s larger body of work and also provides a useful guide to the areas in which Giono’s version of Melville veers away from the historical record. “Giono was the one with the big personality, and the character, 'Melville,' is his alter ego," White writes. The novel opens as Melville returns to the United States in 1849 after a trip to England; he has "a strange item in his baggage. It was an embalmed head…but it was his own.” This metaphorically rich image leads into the story of his time overseas, placing this most American of writers in a foreign land. While traveling, he meets a woman named Adelina White; their heated discussions of politics and philosophy leave him infatuated with her and inspired to write the book that would become his masterpiece. Giono juxtaposes lyrically written paragraphs about Melville’s travels with passages in which intense voices of various characters overwhelm the narrative—a sort of literary echo of the juxtapositions that abound in Moby-Dick. A different evocation of that novel comes in a scene where Adelina pragmatically lambasts those who avoid helping the hungry for “philosophizing about the doctrines of Adam Smith and Ricardo.”

This isn’t your typical fictionalized life of a writer—instead, it’s an unexpected meditation on the convergence of two literary lives.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68137-137-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

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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