Crace continues to occupy a singular place in contemporary literature.

HARVEST

Rarely does language so plainspoken and elemental tell a story so richly open to interpretation on so many different levels.

Is this a religious allegory? An apocalyptic fable? A mystery? A meditation on the human condition? With economy and grace, the award-winning Crace (The Pesthouse, 2007, etc.) gives his work a simplicity and symmetry that belie the disturbances beneath the consciousness of its narrator. It’s a narrative without specifics of time or place, in the countryside of the author’s native England, following a harvest that will prove different than any the villagers have ever experienced, in a locale where, explains the narrator, “We do not even have a title for the village. It is just The Village. And it’s surrounded by The Land.” In the beginning, the narrator speaks for the community, “bounded by common ditches and collective hopes,” yet one where “[t]heir suspicion of anyone who was not born within these boundaries is unwavering.” The “they” proves crucial, as the narrator who initially speaks for the collective “we” reveals that he is in fact an outsider, brought to the village 12 years earlier by the man who is the master of the manor, and that he is someone who has become a part of the community, yet remains apart from it. There has been a fire following the harvest, disrupting the seasonal cycle, and although evidence points to three young men within the community, blame falls on two men and a woman who have recently camped on the outskirts. There is also someone making charts of the land and an issue of succession of ownership. There is a sense that this harvest may be the last one for these people, that the land may be converted to different use. “[P]lowing is our sacrament, our solemn oath, the way we grace and consecrate our land,” yet that way of life may soon be over. “There isn’t one of us—no, them—who’s safe,” declares the narrator, who must ultimately come to terms with the depths of his solitude.

Crace continues to occupy a singular place in contemporary literature.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-52077-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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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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