A compelling, beautifully rendered tale of passion and pain.



Rome, past and present, serves as the setting for a sparkling historical novel.

Smith (Free Men, 2016, etc.) bounds through 2,000 years of history, following four indelible characters as they grapple with questions of faith, freedom, and transgressive love. Tom, a biologist working in contemporary Rome, is studying ostracods, tiny crustaceans that thrive in polluted, agitated environments. “Are they adapting in the face of disadvantage or are they opportunists of collapse?” Tom asks, aware that his question about ostracods could just as well apply to his own emotional agitation. The married father of a 9-year-old daughter, he has met a young woman who enchants him, impelling him to confront his desperate desire for “an unleashing” and for a love deeper than what he feels for his wife. A child playing in the water where he is investigating suddenly shrieks in pain, pierced by a piece of bent metal, “scaly with corrosion, its silver marred with patches of orange rust.” It is a fishhook—maybe a castoff with no value or perhaps an ancient relic: uncanny, miraculous. The fishhook reappears as Smith leaps back to the Renaissance, where it falls into the hands of Giulia, a mixed-race princess newly married to a Medici, pregnant with another man’s child. For Giulia, her fortunes embroiled in political and religious rivalries, the fishhook evokes a holier time, before corruption and hypocrisy sullied the church. In ninth-century Rome, Felix, a 60-year-old monk, is tormented by his youthful, forbidden love for Tomaso; assigned to watch over the decaying bodies in the putridarium, Felix comes into possession of the fishhook, guessing—wishing—that it belonged to the martyred St. Prisca, who perhaps “got it direct from Jesus.” In the year 165, Prisca did indeed find the hook, secreting it as a precious token. Drawn to worshipping Christ rather than pagan gods, 12-year-old Prisca stands defiant against her violent tormenters. Perhaps Smith’s most appealing character is Satan, whose weary, ironic comments punctuate a narrative that shines with lyrical, translucent prose.

A compelling, beautifully rendered tale of passion and pain.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287364-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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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/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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