Is this Irving’s worst novel? No doubt about it. Will it sell gazillions of copies nevertheless? Absolutely.

UNTIL I FIND YOU

The life of an actor is compromised and traumatized by his many relationships with older women, in Irving’s sprawling—in fact, overstuffed—11th novel.

Jack Burns’s earliest years are spent in his native Canada and points east, such as Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Edinburgh (where his father, church organist William Burns, had seduced and abandoned Jack’s mother Alice, a tattoo artist). We learn a lot about the tattooer’s art, and the occupations, avocations and fetishes of the (mostly female) people Jack encounters over the years, accompanying Alice’s pursuit of William (who keeps moving), then as a student at St. Hilda’s School for Girls, where he bonds uneasily with Emma Oastler, a preadolescent free spirit who’s the first of her gender to take a protective interest in Jack’s nubile penis. Jack moves on himself, to fledgling fame as a schoolboy actor, then to Exeter Academy and the University of New Hampshire (allowing Irving to recycle autobiographical material previously fictionalized elsewhere), a Hollywood career and an Oscar for writing a screenplay based on old pal Emma’s best-selling novel, increasing his distance from Alice (who’s found other outlets for her affections), and—after nearly 700 pages of repetitive, self-indulgent twaddle—a search for father William, who’s in a Zurich sanatorium, afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder, covered with tattoo images comprising “both a history of music and a personal history.” Until I Find You aims for plaintiveness too late, having settled, over far too many pages, for arbitrary freakishness exacerbated by what seem extraordinarily blasé dramatizations of the sexual abuse of children, for seriocomic purposes. Yes, we understand it’s supposed to be eccentrically amusing. It isn’t. And there are so many—uh, limp penis jokes that the reader begins to feel as if he’s watching a particularly inane episode of Saturday Night Live.

Is this Irving’s worst novel? No doubt about it. Will it sell gazillions of copies nevertheless? Absolutely.

Pub Date: July 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6383-3

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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