THE RIVER WITHIN

In 1955, postwar Britain’s socio-economic changes play out in the small Yorkshire village of Starome as local estate Richmond Hall swims against a tide of mounting taxes and death duties.

Then the drowned body of Danny Masters, a village local, is discovered at river’s edge by 17-year-old Lennie Fairweather, her older brother, Tom, and their friend Alexander Richmond. As Danny’s aunt says, “That river’s always been dangerous.” Never named, it winds dangerously enough through the lives of Powell’s four protagonists: quiet Lennie, whose father’s job as private secretary at Richmond Hall has left her in social limbo, fully accepted neither by the village nor the gentry; Cambridge student Alexander, heir to Richmond Hall, who has begun a romantic relationship with Lennie while in confused, angry mourning over his father Angus’ recent death; Alexander’s mother, Venetia, whose stately role as Lady Richmond belies her insecurities and passions as a wife and mother; Danny himself, a village boy in unrequited love with Lennie though his boyhood friendships with Tom and Alexander ended years before when the two of them left for boarding school. (Intellectually gifted but resentful Tom, whose schooling Angus paid for, represents the angry young men of 1950s British fiction and film.) While Danny remains relatively innocent—pining for Lennie, his only real secret is the volume of Tennyson he’s purchased and keeps meaning to give her—his death forces Alexander, Lennie, and Venetia to confront unspoken jealousies and guilts, some more deserved than others. Love triangles abound, as do deaths with unclear causes. But this is not a murder mystery. Despite an unfortunately dated representation of mental illness, Powell shows hard-nosed empathy in portraying individuals’ private demons in the context of social realities. Her novel about love, class, and secrecy in 1950s England reads as if it were written in the era the characters inhabit, her style and tone reminiscent of an earlier generation of reticent yet emotionally brutal writers like Shirley Hazzard and Graham Greene.

A mesmerizing escape.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-60945-615-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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