A luminous modern fairy tale.


Sensory, haunting, and somewhat literally haunted, this novel tackles the big subjects—belonging, mortality, love—with quiet grace and intimate focus.

Wood’s (Diving Belles, 2012) novel is, on the surface, about three generations of women and their search for home. Ada, who has never settled in one place for long, returns to the house of her childhood to cast her mother Pearl’s ashes in the river. Accompanied by her fey 6-year-old daughter, Pepper, she finds herself confronted by memories of her mother (as well as her ghost), which unexpectedly lead to new beginnings. Written from the points of view of all three female characters, the novel explores quintessential questions of relationship, growing up, and survival. As in the river that rages through the story, though, the true vitality lies beneath the surface of Wood’s exquisite and poetic writing. While there isn't much action, the prose—sometimes delicate and precise, sometimes rich and layered—sweeps the reader inexorably on. Wood makes liberal use of descriptive language: "The last few shots showed the afternoon seeping away; the sky turning the dark blue of costly ink. A bright leaf like a star, a bedraggled feather." The careful accumulation of detail about the ramshackle house, its lonely inhabitants, and the fierce river creates an emotional connection that is grounded, rather than in pathos, in the beauty of the world, moment by moment, and how that beauty sustains us, even when we feel lost. The setting is both specific and timeless, and the characters are flawed in universal ways, making them easy to identify with despite their isolation and oddness. The ruminations on mortality and redemption, not grandiose but simply thoughtful, make the memory of the novel linger long after reading.

A luminous modern fairy tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-357-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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