Regal, raunchy, revealing—the stories in this collection leave a lasting impression.

THE VANISHING PRINCESS

This short story collection from a beloved British author, published in the U.K. in 1995 but only now receiving a U.S. release, glimmers like found treasure—or a mirage.

The princess in this insightful, imaginative, and wryly clever collection’s title story, “The Vanishing Princess or The Origin of Cubism,” may or may not be imprisoned in the circular tower room in which she lives in solitude, spending her time (of which she has no sense) placidly reading books on her bed, generally unaware of and remarkably incurious about the world outside, which she can glimpse from her small window. It is only after one soldier and then another turn up to pierce and fragment the innocent solitude of her existence—bringing food, a mirror, and a calendar, to satisfy their own pleasure—that she comes to perceive time and disappointment, to see herself as they do and consequently to disappear. Among the ideas percolating in this quirky, disquieting fairy tale is the way a sense of loss can attend the moment of being found. Readers just discovering Diski (In Gratitude, 2016, etc.), who died from cancer in 2016, through the dozen stories in this collection may perceive this acutely—the searing sense of finding her funny, flinty voice just as it has disappeared. Yet for Diski devotees existing and new, the far-ranging work the author has left behind here is something to savor. In “Shit and Gold,” she offers a bold and naughty reimagining of “Rumpelstiltskin” in which the upwardly mobile miller’s daughter takes action to create a far more fulfilling fate for herself and the strangely named fellow with the helpful ability to spin straw into precious metal. (The miller’s daughter, it so happens, has her talents, too.) In “Housewife,” she steams things up with the story of two people swept up in, but not away by, a ravenous extramarital affair. In “Bath Time,” she brings us a woman in determined pursuit of the perfect bath. Yes, only that. But in Diski’s able hands the modest plot yields riches, shedding glinty light on dreams deferred, pleasures denied, the way we can, if we are single-minded enough, take the straw of everyday life and turn it into gold.

Regal, raunchy, revealing—the stories in this collection leave a lasting impression.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-268571-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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THE SECRET HISTORY

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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