Ponderous comic sections are redeemed by flights of epigrammatic lyricism that twist cynicism into hope.

THE GAP OF TIME

Shakespeare did a pretty good job with his plays, but Hogarth Press is putting out a series of rewrites by contemporary novelists. This is Winterson’s version of A Winter’s Tale.

Winterson says the play “has been a private text for me for more than 30 years. By that I mean part of the written wor(l)d I can’t live without; without, not in the sense of lack, but in the old sense of living outside of something.” The play does have a thematic resemblance to Winterson’s novels (The Daylight Gate, 2013, etc.) and memoir (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, 2012), with its autocratic father, hints of incest, passionate love shading into abuse, foundlings, and redemptive innocents. Shakespeare’s telling reads like a fairy tale: a jealous king, convinced his wife is having an affair with his best friend, has his baby daughter set adrift. She washes up on the coast of the friend’s kingdom, Bohemia, where a shepherd finds her. Meanwhile, the Delphic Oracle vindicates the queen, who (supposedly) drops dead, only to reappear years later as a statue who comes to life once the lost princess is allowed to marry the Bohemian prince. Winterson changes the king into a London hedge fund tycoon, the queen into a French pop star, the shepherd into a black musician in New Bohemia, Louisiana, the queen’s loyal scold of a serving woman into a Jewish executive assistant spouting Yiddish proverbs, and so on. It generally works well, but the transformation drains the story of some of its fairy-tale magic: for example, the statue business shows up only as a video game and a metaphor (“Every day she finds another carving, another statue and she imagines what it would be like if they came to life. And who trapped them in stone? She feels trapped in stone”). Winterson’s most interesting addition is to make the king-king-queen love triangle explicitly sexual: here the two men are not just best friends, but boyhood lovers.

Ponderous comic sections are redeemed by flights of epigrammatic lyricism that twist cynicism into hope.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8041-4135-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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