THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY

The aftermath of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: the ascendancy of spychief George Smiley, the wholesale dismantling and piecemeal rebuilding of Britain's betrayed intelligence service, and Le Carre's longest, deepest, and quietest incisions into the gentlemen who steal secrets, hide bodies, and rarely blink. When Smiley's tetchy crew searches the fries for salvageable plums (which investigations did the traitor squelch?), they come up with a "golden seam"—thousands of dollars fed from Moscow into the numbered Hong Kong account of Drake Ko, president of China Airsea, Ltd. and one of the colony's leading humanitarians. Query: for what purpose is this cash being hoarded on the border of Mao's China? Among the agents sent East to "shake the tree" is the aging honourable schoolboy, Jerry Westerby, called in from pasture in Italy to assume his convenient cover—hack journalist ("Seven-day coverage, wars to tit-shows") for the London rag that his father founded. While Smiley's burrowers research and deduce, Jerry, his oafishness and cries of "Super!" all part of his disguise, tracks Ko's dealings from Hong Kong through Thailand and Laos. But by the time that Ko's secret is understood and ready to be exploited—he plans to rescue his Soviet-agent brother from China-expendable Jerry, bewitched by Ko's British mistress and rattled by the two innocent-bystander deaths that his inquiries have caused, is ready to scrap all loyalties except those between lovers, brothers, and friends. The final pages here offer no switcheroos of unmasking or decoding; instead of twists, Le Carre slowly unwinds spirals that go haywire just when you expect them to form a neat helix. And for some readers, the intricacies of "tradecraft," the loaf-and-lurch lives of newsmen abroad, the anti-travelogue Asian backgrounds, and the brisk but massive waves of elegant prose may prove an unacceptable substitute for more obvious sources of spy-tale energy. But if Le Carre is the Henry lames of spy novelists, firing more nuances than bullets, this is his Golden Bowl—dense, hard, and gleaming on the outside, clark within, and worth possessing whatever the price.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1977

ISBN: 0743457919

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1977

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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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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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

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