A story of quiet beauty that doesn’t require the contrived insertion of fairy tales to enchant. (Later this year...


Canadian den Hartog follows a twin back to her ruptured childhood in 1980s Ontario, where she suffered the tragic loss of her sister.

Eugenie and Jane, who grow up with their frustrated artist-mother Lucy and their angry father in Ontario, are perfect complements of each other: one daring and always laughing, the other cautious and circumspect. Yet by the time the twins are ten, carefree Eugenie has vanished from serious Jane’s life and Jane chaffs to distance herself from the unsettling dynamics of her parents’ rocky marriage. Years later, when Jane is living with her boyfriend, Simon, and writing illustrated fables, she receives a call that Lucy is dying. A poignant, dreamlike account (addressed in the second-person to Eugenia) chronicles her journey back home to make peace with her early years. Interspersed with magical memories of dressing up as Siamese twins for Halloween and visiting their mother in Toronto, where she moved out temporarily to seek a life as an artist, the author offers oddly intrusive fairy tales in discrete chapters, titled after the names of fictional children like “Ildikoh” or “Pirouette,” which become allegories inspired by tales the twins’ mother told them as children. Lucy and her husband are locked in a passion that excludes the young girls, provoking the terrible accident that takes Eugenie’s life. Den Hartog spins her tale with a deft hand, coyly dropping foreshadowings of Eugenie’s death and hints of a lethal darkness lying within their father. Jane’s own extreme circumspection has kept her from telling the truth about her past to her lover, who in turn claims to be her Platonic other half. The tale does gain strength through affecting details, though the parents’ blithe resolution (especially when coming after the senseless death of their daughter) feels abrupt and unconvincing, and the reader is never treated to the family reunion on Lucy’s deathbed.

A story of quiet beauty that doesn’t require the contrived insertion of fairy tales to enchant. (Later this year MacAdam/Cage will publish den Hartog’s debut novel, Water Wings, which has already appeared in Canada.)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2003

ISBN: 1-931561-25-7

Page Count: 260

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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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

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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