Despite a flurry of stylistic flourishes, a cleareyed character study emerges, brimming with warmth and sympathy.

A CRASH COURSE

ON THE ANATOMY OF ROBOTS

In Evans’ most recent novel, Damien Wood and his expat friends discover that humanity is a fragile thing, especially when held up against the vicissitudes of a generally uncaring universe.

Told largely, though not exclusively, as a collection of second-person journal entries and blog posts, the novel follows Damien’s life through the first few years of the 2000s, with occasional flashbacks to his teen years and sidesteps into other, tangentially related issues. Despite several achievements in his life, including success as a writer and spoken-word artist, Damien is progressively isolated from his loved ones and from himself, and he searches for a connection via frequent travel, alcohol and an increasingly agitated series of relationships with women. By the time Damien ends up in Cambodia, drinking nearly nonstop, he’s been driven to distraction by his latest female companion and seemingly endless visa issues. Events line up for a darker turn. As befitting the rapid, cross-platform nature of Damien’s work and lifestyle, Evans tells the story in a rapid mishmash of stylistic devices, including poetry, fake technical instructions and shifting typographic standards, while keeping the story moving breathlessly forward. The effect becomes wearing in the middle of the narrative, but Damien remains an engaging, witty character from beginning to end. The more grandiose effects are grounded by the reader’s natural sympathy for Damien, the hapless protagonist. Evans also effectively uses cultural indicators to evoke the time period without dating the material, even though references to MySpace come perilously close to bucking this trend. Readers who approach the narrative with suspicion about the central metaphor—which is understandable, given the nearly clichéd nature of the “technology dehumanizes us” trope—will likely appreciate the dexterous subtlety Evans employs to underline the theme through actions rather than baldly declaring it in dialogue or exposition.

Despite a flurry of stylistic flourishes, a cleareyed character study emerges, brimming with warmth and sympathy.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1938545016

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pangea Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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