THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR

If you hopped along with Watership Down or whooped it up with Hanta Yo, you might just go for this startling novelty item which, like a statuette of Venus de Milo with a clock in her stomach, unites the informative with a livelier art: anthropological speculations about the Ice Age illustrated by the odyssey of a remarkably sophisticated Clan of Neanderthals and their Cro-Magnon foundling, Ayla. Adopted as a child by the beetle-browed Clan of the Cave Bear after her people perish in an earthquake, Ayla looks different and is different: the frontal lobes of her brain are more developed than those of the back-brained Clan. (The Clansfolk do, however, have extraordinary memories which reach back to their own evolution.) Still, odd little Ayla is mothered by medicine woman Iza; she reveres her father-figure and mentor, Magician (Mog-ur) Creb, whose brain is the best of the Clan, mystical-memory-wise; and it is Creb who shockingly proclaims that Ayla (who has been clawed by a lion) belongs to the most powerful male totem, the Cave Lion, and is not meant to be docile and subservient. Indeed, with her "forward-thinking frontal lobes," Ayla teaches herself to hunt (forbidden to women), revealing her secret when she saves a child from a beast. And at last she is accepted as the Woman Who Hunts after surviving a "Death-Curse" (a month alone). But when abusive, angry Broud impregnates Ayla, she bears a mixed-breed child and later must leave child and Clan when Broud becomes leader. . . though the Clan is doomed and the emergence of a new human being is on its way. True, Auel's Neanderthals often have some awfully peculiar notions cooking on those back brains of theirs. And anachronisms run wild through the wilderness ("You call yourself a hunter," says the Clan leader, "You expect to control a clan when you can't even control yourself?"). But it's all written with nerveless esprite admirable scenery, swell sex, convincing artifacts and survival modese and, when clubbed on by heavy publisher advertising, this first novel (first of six in a projected early-man series) may well prove curiously primitive enough to catch on in a big way.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1980

ISBN: 0553381679

Page Count: -

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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