It's all quite entertaining and memorable.

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH

Here, Follett sets the thrillers aside for a long, steady story about building a cathedral in 12th-century England.

Bloodthirsty or adventure-crazed Follett readers will be frustrated, but anyone who has ever been moved by the splendors of a fine church will sink right into this highly detailed but fast-moving historical work—a novel about the people and skills needed to put up an eye-popping cathedral in the very unsettled days just before the ascension of Henry II. The cathedral is the brainchild of Philip, prior of the monastery at Kingsbridge, and Tom, an itinerant master mason. Philip, shrewd and ambitious but genuinely devout, sees it as a sign of divine agreement when his decrepit old cathedral burns on the night that Tom and his starving family show up seeking shelter. Actually, it's Tom's clever stepson Jack who has stepped in to carry out God's will by secretly torching the cathedral attic, but the effect is the same. Tom gets the commission to start the rebuilding—which is what he has wanted to do more than anything in his life. Meanwhile, however, the work is complicated greatly by local politics. There is a loathsome baron and his family who have usurped the local earldom and allied themselves with the powerful, cynical bishop—who is himself sinfully jealous of Philip's cathedral. There are the dispossessed heirs to earldom, a beautiful girl and her bellicose brother, both sworn to root out the usurpers. And there is the mysterious Ellen, Tom's second wife, who witnessed an ancient treachery that haunts the bishop, the priory, and the vile would-be earl. The great work is set back, and Tom is killed in a raid by the rivals. It falls to young Jack to finish the work. Thriller writing turns out to be pretty good training, since Follett's history moves like a fast freight train. Details are plenty, but they support rather than smother.

It's all quite entertaining and memorable.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 1989

ISBN: 0451225244

Page Count: 973

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1989

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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

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CIRCE

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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