Grim and measured, sure of its emotional power, this is certainly evidence of Brennan’s great gift, but the story’s too...


Riding a wave of rediscovery, long-time New Yorker writer Brennan (The Rose Garden, 1999, etc.) has been no more highly touted than now, seven years after her death at age 76. This novella, though, dating from the ’40s and found in a university archive, will not add measurably to her reputation.

In the cold heart of Dublin’s fair city dwells Anastasia King’s paternal grandmother, whom she has come to live with after her mother’s death in Paris. But Anastasia finds her visit to Ireland a chilling one, and it’s not because of the damp weather. Her mother had taken her and run away from her father years before, leaving him to plead for their return to no avail, and then to die. Grandmother has neither forgotten nor forgiven, even though Anastasia was only 16 then; now, at 22, she’s devastated by the news that she’s not welcome as a permanent guest in the house where she lived as a child. She tries to soften Grandmother’s heart, going to Midnight Mass on Christmas and spending freely on presents for both the old woman and her long-time housekeeper, whom she knew from before, but whatever tenderness she imagines quickly turns to stone when Anastasia suggests that her mother be brought back from Paris and buried next to her father. When she flees to a church to console herself, she’s booted out for not having a hat on, and from there it’s only a matter of time before she’s packing her bags again. In the end she shows that she’s her mother’s daughter after all, but there’s little comfort to be derived from her small acts of defiance.

Grim and measured, sure of its emotional power, this is certainly evidence of Brennan’s great gift, but the story’s too slight to stand alone.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2000

ISBN: 1-58243-083-7

Page Count: 94

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet