Machado deserves wider familiarity among English readers, and this is a fine place to start reading him.

THE POSTHUMOUS MEMOIRS OF BRÁS CUBAS

Perhaps the greatest novel by the multifaced Brazilian writer receives a fresh, lively translation.

Machado (1839-1908) never met a literary form he could not master; his poems, plays, stories, newspaper articles, and other writings are all exemplary, and he is regarded as Brazil’s greatest writer more than a century after his death. This novel, published in 1881, at once lampoons and celebrates the liberal ideals of the country’s intelligentsia, and it’s told from an odd viewpoint: that of the corpse of a generally useless minor aristocrat. “I am not exactly an author recently deceased,” Brás Cubas declares at the opening, “but a deceased man recently an author.” In 160 mostly short episodes, all dedicated to the worm that took the first bite of his interred body, Brás Cubas outlines what he’s bothered to understand of the intellectual currents of his time; given the choice between praying for glory in the here and now or glory in the afterlife, for instance, he finds something else to do. One of those things is to go to Portugal and get a law degree without much enthusiasm for the project, instead acting up as “a wastrel, a superficial, troublemaking, and petulant student, given to adventures, following romanticism in practice and liberalism in theory.” Back home, Brás Cubas takes up with a married woman while yearning for a lost love, finding himself in a condition that he calls “the solidarity of human disgruntlement.” Not even Aristotle could foresee the mess he’s in, he concludes. Machado’s pages are punctuated by nicely philosophical apothegms (“What lies between life and death? A short bridge”) and fables, one of which explains the unceasing battle between reason and folly. Such passages read as if from classic texts, while his here-and-now reminiscences of lost loves and other missteps could have been written yesterday. All are highly entertaining.

Machado deserves wider familiarity among English readers, and this is a fine place to start reading him.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-14-313503-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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