An auspicious debut that challenges the reader to follow the progress of mental distress and bravely offers little relief...


A concert pianist finds his life and mind drifting after an accident damages his hand in this gloomy, evocative novel.

Mr. Field is sleeping when the book starts. He is sleeping when a train crash shatters his left wrist. He is sleeping when his wife leaves him. The scant story he narrates alternates between stark reality and a dreamlike limbo, specifics and vagueness. With the compensation money he receives, he buys a white house, a box on stilts, that overlooks the sea on the Capetown coast of South Africa and was designed by an admirer of Le Corbusier. Mr. Field—no definite first name is given—meets the admirer’s widow, who lives nearby, and she soon haunts his waking life. He spends time peeping through her garden window. He often encounters a stray dog in a graveyard when he’s out walking. In the widow’s sitting room, a Chagall-like print shows a woman, a dog, and a rudimentary box of a house. Near Mr. Field’s house, a circular residential tower is being built. He wanders around his house, which is in a state of decay, as is Mr. Field. He is sad about his lost career and lost wife. His sadness wearies him: “I was so tired of being sad.” Maybe his wife found his sadness tiresome. Before she left, she played computer solitaire and studied the sea, writing observations in a notebook he later finds. Kilalea, who grew up in South Africa and whose previous book, One Eye’d Leigh, was a poetry collection that hasn't been published in the U.S., conjures from precise prose and elements as basic and fraught as Tarot card images—sea, widow, wife, round tower, box house, sad man—a kind of tone poem that seems at times forced but ultimately resonates well beyond one man’s depression.

An auspicious debut that challenges the reader to follow the progress of mental distress and bravely offers little relief from the painful sight.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-57363-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books/Crown

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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