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 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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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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