This powerful and enthralling novel takes the measure of a society feeding on its members as little contemporary fiction has.

NUMBER 11

The political and cultural state of contemporary Britain is dissected in this multistrand novel.

Coe's book is a sequel to The Winshaw Legacy (1995), a deadly serious satirical tale in which Thatcherism paid for its crimes through the merciless and meticulous dispatch of a family of right-wing upper-class monsters. Revenge is meted out here as well, in a much more fantastical way. The anchors of the story are two women, friends, whom we follow from girlhood, where they meet at a private school, to adulthood, where their lives have diverged. Rachel, who goes on to become the nanny to a horrendous upper-class family which embodies the greed of the new gilded age, is as a child obsessed with the suicide of U.N. weapons inspector David Kelly near the beginning of the Iraq War. Rachel's friend Alison watches her once briefly famous mother humiliate herself to get back into the spotlight. The misunderstanding that separates the two for many years can be read as a pithy comment on how we now accept the alienation technology has brought into our lives. The other strands of the story—involving a faded pop star, an academic whose dead husband was obsessed with tracking down an obscure German film, and the surviving tentacles of the Winshaw clan—add up to a picture of the U.K. from the time Tony Blair pulled the country into the Iraq War to the present day and its legacy from Thatcher: the rich in a state of permanent ascendancy and the social contract shredded by engineered ruthlessness which leaves Britons in a continual state of want or, in the case of those who can't afford live-saving medicine, dead. The tone is not so much anger as a state of settled disgust at the death of shame. Sections on the squalor of reality TV and the mob mentality the internet has brought about are particularly lethal. The denouement plays like Creature Feature by way of the Old Testament.

This powerful and enthralling novel takes the measure of a society feeding on its members as little contemporary fiction has.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49336-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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