Fans of romantic suspense with an art historical bent will appreciate the vigor of Albanese’s reimagining of the family saga...

STOLEN BEAUTY

Two haute bourgeois Austrian-Jewish women see their world upended by fin de siècle libertinism, the onset of the Nazi regime, and the theft of all they hold most dear.

Sparking off the same source material as the film Woman in Gold (2015), Albanese conjures the voices of Adele Bloch-Bauer and her niece Maria Altmann, whose lives overlapped briefly but whose biographies are forever conjoined by a work of art. Here, as in life, handsome, clever, and rich Adele is an intellectually famished, aspiring salon hostess whose tolerant husband, an uncultured but benevolent sugar-beet magnate, indulges her interest in the philosophical debates of the day (though the novel imposes no burden on readers to wrestle with them). She eventually persuades him to commission Gustav Klimt—monk-cloaked, lupine, and a notorious seducer with multiple illegitimate children—to do her portrait. It takes him three years to complete. While conscious of ugly talk rippling through the Ringstrasse—a failed and embittered applicant to Vienna's Art Academy, who will one day come to power in Germany, is glimpsed briefly at one of Adele's salon meetings—Adele is forced to pull back from their potentially scandalous relationship for reasons less social than private. By turns breathless and rueful at the memory of the erstwhile affair—“His gaze was intoxicating. I’m embarrassed to remember how little it took to keep me talking”—Adele will take up other causes and protégés. One is her young niece Maria, whose story commences in 1938 and makes for a gritty, suspenseful counterpoint (with a few historical liberties taken) to the lip-smacking linzer torte of Adele’s bildungsroman. Less worldly than her aunt (who was long dead by the time Hitler comes to power), Maria is shocked when the Gestapo turns up at her home to oversee the transfer of Jewish property into Aryan hands. But she quickly readjusts her inner compass, proving wily and doughty in ways Aunt Adele would approve. Taking the lead from her husband—an amateur opera singer hooked on female adoration—she organizes their escape, not a hot-second too soon. Though given shorter shrift here than the romance/suspense plots, Maria’s nervy and unprecedented campaign to seek restitution for her family’s looted art collection—including the shimmering Klimt portrait of Adele hidden in plain sight in Vienna’s most prestigious gallery—provides a satisfying coda: “The Nazis were inside my uncle's palais....If you’re lucky, life teaches you to survive.”

Fans of romantic suspense with an art historical bent will appreciate the vigor of Albanese’s reimagining of the family saga behind the masterpiece long regarded as Vienna’s Mona Lisa.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3198-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

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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