Solidly written but terribly uninteresting experiment about a lifeguard who can’t save himself.


The closing of a German public bath takes on catastrophic importance in the eyes of an aging lifeguard.

There’s not much to the life of the protagonist beyond his occupation. Newcomer Hacker, a young German author, has made her narrator a singularly uncommunicative, repetitive, backwards-seeming old man who for four decades was a lifeguard at an East Berlin public swimming pool and baths. By the time we get to him, the baths have just been closed for good after a government inspection of the shoddily maintained facility. The lifeguard, however, has decided he’s not going to leave the baths, and, after the pool has been drained, the entrance locked and the staff sent off, he slips back in to live among the mold and rats, obsessively reliving a life that might most gently be described as “routine.” For just about all that time, the lifeguard’s day had consisted of rising early, getting the same lunch at a local kiosk, coming to the baths, enforcing the rules, and ignoring the slights of the other employees, who regarded him as, at best, simple. Hacker peels off another onion-skin layer of the lifeguard’s story with every successive return to his neurotic repetitions, and the baths take on horrific connotations with the suggestion that the pool was used as an execution spot for prisoners during WWII. Otherwise, though, except for additional brief mentions of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, the lifeguard lives in a world outside time, history, or care—and the reader wilts. Writing an unboring story about a boring person is a toweringly difficult challenge, and Hacker doesn’t yet have the method or breadth to pull it off: the peeling away of layers reveals, each time, only more of the same.

Solidly written but terribly uninteresting experiment about a lifeguard who can’t save himself.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-902881-45-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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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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