A shambolic sort-of crime novel that flirts with absurdity but never finds its footing.


A young Mauritian immigrant attempts to dissect her father’s criminal past.

This debut novel by Ah-Sen, a Toronto writer who comes from a family of Mauritian winemakers, may tell an interesting tale, but the actual storytelling is so messy and unfocused that the style is distracting. We hear the story of Sergent Mayacou, a member of a secretive street gang called the Sous, through the eyes of his daughter between the years 1965 and 1980. Sergent is known by his cronies as “The Grand Menteur,” a designation which translates to “big liar,” while his comrades carry colorful nicknames like the Black Derwish, Ti Pourri, and Bowling Green. When a policeman friend of Sergent’s gives the daughter a codex laying out the mysterious workings of the Sous Gang, it gives her some insight into the nature of her painfully secretive father and her own tendencies toward crime and violence. Unfortunately, that revelation doesn’t do squat for the reader, since it’s never really revealed just what criminal activities this flamboyant band of misfits gets up to. The daughter ultimately ends up working at St. Alban’s, a homeless shelter in Toronto, where she seeks shelter for herself after years of grifting to get by. This tale is meant to shine a light on the unique plight of a specific group of immigrants, but there’s nothing compelling in its telling. “Yet wherefore the enduring survival of our derelict people?” the narrator bemoans late in the tale. “To what grace the raw power of these schemers? Where else but the many children, siblings, acquaintances, comrades willing to abet the happiness of their devoteds, kith and kin who comprised the enablers, sympathizers and even enemies. All points of discourse intersecting into a lightning array of action and inertia.” The story told here is culturally interesting with its melting pot of Mauritian mythology, British class influences, and the awkwardness of being a stranger in a strange land. It's too bad the writing that propels it is as twisty and hard to unravel as a Gordian knot.

A shambolic sort-of crime novel that flirts with absurdity but never finds its footing.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77166-130-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Bookthug

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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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.


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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