This ultimately rather mysterious book, with its attenuated plot and restrained humor, is like a person who speaks so softly...

LAURA & EMMA

Fifteen years in the life of a woman who is constitutionally out of step with her privileged New York family.

We meet Laura in 1980, waking up from a nightmare, thinking it would be nice if she had a husband to discuss it with. The only other time she misses having a partner is if something breaks around the apartment after 9 p.m., too late to call the super. Laura is an odd duck in many ways. She has little interest in clothes, “but what people assumed was her absentminded ignorance of fashion” is actually ecological conscientiousness. Since everything she owns will one day end up in a landfill, she avoids acquisition as much as possible. In 1979, the fashion-on-the-street photographer Bill Cunningham took a picture of her in a Laura Ashley skirt, white turtleneck, and Frye boots; she is still talking about it, and wearing the same outfit, in 1995. Though she rejects her family’s lifestyle in some respects, she does take their money and holds a job at the museum now located in her great-grandfather’s mansion. Wedding coordination is a position for which she is quite unsuited, but because of the special allowances the library makes due to her connections, she will never leave. In this very quiet life of hers, one thunderbolt strikes. In her single experience of sexual intercourse, which occurs under conditions which are both very sad and very funny, she gets pregnant. Reproduction is certainly not part of her plan to save the planet, but on the day of her scheduled abortion, a sparrow gets into her room and changes her mind. So all-by-herself Laura becomes Laura and Emma, per the title of Greathead’s debut. Although having a child should by all rights open the windows of Laura’s life, it doesn’t. Her daughter, on the other hand, turns out to be a totally different sort of person.

This ultimately rather mysterious book, with its attenuated plot and restrained humor, is like a person who speaks so softly that you end up paying very close attention.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5660-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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