THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE (BALLANTINE READER'S CIRCLE)

How many times can Irving, novelist-as-juggler, throw the same subjects, metaphors, and tricks—bears, motorcycles, prep schools, hotels, Vienna, muscle-building, feminism—up into the air? Five times so far, including the renowned, genuinely endearing Garp. How many times can he then catch them? Only four times, it seems—because this time, in the weakest of all his books, the juggled pieces come clattering down around Irving's feet: he has again trotted out his genial cartoon . . . but here he has left out the animation. The Berry family, up in Dairy, N.H.—where dad Win teaches at a second-rate prep school in the Fifties—also includes Mom, eldest son Frank (who's gay), earthy Franny, narrator John, dwarf sister Lilly (who'll one day write a best-selling novel), little Egg, and Sorrow the dog. When the girl's section of the school fails, Win buys it and transforms the building into the Hotel New Hampshire: he's nostalgic for summers of his youth when he bellhopped at a Maine resort that featured a refugee animal-trainer named Freud and his performing bear, State O'Maine. (There's also been a bit of bad business at the school: sister Franny was raped, a dastardliness avenged by a big black football-scholarship student named Junior Jones—a sensitive big galoomph who predictably resembles the feminist footballer in Garp.) But though the kids have fun spying (via intercom) on the doings of the few guests in the rooms, the hotel is naturally a flop; and across a diaphanous bridge of narrative Irving marches the family next to Vienna, where the Berrys will help out old Freud the bear-trainer with his hotel. This second Hotel New Hampshire, on the Krugerstrasse, is no more successful. It does have, however, ""characters"" aplenty inside: whores, an ugly girl who wears a bear suit, radicals who attempt to blow up the State Opera. And there's yet a third Hotel N.H. in the future: it will function as a Maine rapecrisis center. True, all these hotels add up to a flabby metaphor—a sort of comic imitation of Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools. But what's most distressing here is Irving's sleepy narrative procedure: he sets up one or two big incidents hundreds of pages in advance, then desultorily plays with the set-ups until the blow-ups themselves come as tepid anti-climaxes. And, to fill the big chaotic spaces in between, Irving pads like crazy, picking out a few coy sermonettes here and there: ""But this is what we do: we dream on, and our dreams escape us almost as vividly as we can imagine them. That's what happens, like it or not. And because that's what happens, this is what we need: we need a good, smart bear. Some people's minds are good enough so that they can live all by themselves—their minds can be their good, smart bears."" Rape, families, the fate of European Jews—nothing, for Irving, is so big that it can't be chopped down to winsome size to fit in a blender-novel like this. Garp got away with it—the comedy was more centrifugal, scarier—and much of that bestseller's readership will no doubt want to sample this retread. But many of them will be sorely disappointed . . . because nothing lives at the Hotel New Hampshire but cuteness. And this lazy, toothless novel is mostly just a bore.?

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1981

ISBN: 034541795X

Page Count: 434

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1981

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more