Stylistically, though, still on the far side of the pond.


The eighth from Britisher Gee (Christopher and Alexandra, 1992, etc.) confronts race and family but feels like Styrofoam: it takes up lots of space, but most of it’s air.

When the impossibly named Alfred White—caretaker at Albion Park, a place that comes to represent what’s left of British orderliness—is hospitalized after an altercation with some blacks while on duty, the aftermath of his recovery is the perfect catalyst for an examination of racism, UK-style. And, oh, what a family to explore: youngest son Dirk is a live-at-home skinhead who used to torture mice when just a wee lad; daughter Shirley might marry a dapper black named Kojo (he calls her his pink, pale pearl; he’s her “black, dark, beautiful black, a black with the sheen of coal or grapes”); wife May loves her husband and everyone else, but just can’t understand all these politics going on around her; and other son Darren is off to America for legitimate opportunity. The family history is littered with violence—before being beaten in the park, Alfred did the hitting around here. After all, there was that time when Shirley got preggers and no one knew whether the child was “coloured.” In any event, what’s going to happen when attacks start to occur regularly in Albion park because Alfred’s gone? He’s the caretaker—so he’ll have to go back, won’t he? Most among an American readership will tire of the lengthy interior monologue that passes for characterization here—we’re more pushed away than drawn in. And with characters so often either insipid bigots or righteous liberals, who’d want to be so close to their thoughts? Then again, the rawness may appeal to some, at least for the way it seems to record the continuing decline of the “dark” side of the British imperial legacy.

Stylistically, though, still on the far side of the pond.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-86356-380-5

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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

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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

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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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