After a lengthy buildup, which doggedly connects all the characters, however peripheral, there’s a rewarding, bittersweet...

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THE DISTANT HOURS

A letter points the way to a castle in Kent, which harbors decades of grim secrets, in Morton’s latest (The House at Riverton, 2008, etc.).

Edie, a young woman underemployed by a London small press, is puzzled when her normally placid mother Meredith receives a long-delayed letter and bursts into tears. The letter, it turns out, is from Juniper, one of the three Blythe sisters who inhabit Milderhurst Castle, where Meredith, as a child during World War II, was evacuated to escape the Blitz. From here the story ricochets between the war years and the early 1990s. The evacuation proves to be an unexpected blessing for Meredith, a shy, bookish girl who’s misunderstood by her working-class family. Her teacher, Thomas Cavill, encourages her to excel in her studies. She finds true kinship with the three daughters of Raymond Blythe, famed author of a children’s classic entitled The True History of the Mud Man. Raymond, demented and delusional, has secluded himself in his tower room. Much to the chagrin of his eldest daughter Percy, Raymond has evinced an intention to disinherit his daughters. Second sister Saffy schemes to escape the castle for London. Percy is alarmed when Lucy, Milderhurst’s last remaining servant, deserts the family for marriage to their clock repairman—Percy's secret crush? Baby sister Juniper meets Thomas when he arrives to check on Meredith. After a whirlwind London love affair, Juniper defies Percy to announce wedding plans. Thrilled, Saffy makes Juniper a party dress and plans an engagement dinner. Juniper and Thomas are due from London by separate trains, but only Juniper shows up. Like Dickens' Miss Havisham, Juniper will grow old, still wearing the tatters of the dress she donned for the fiancé who got away. As Edie plumbs Milderhurst’s many mysteries, she also struggles to learn what short-circuited her mother’s dreams, so briefly kindled 50 years before.

After a lengthy buildup, which doggedly connects all the characters, however peripheral, there’s a rewarding, bittersweet payoff in the author’s most gothic tale yet.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5278-2

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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