A dark and challenging but emotionally rich work.

ORDESA

A middle-aged man dwells on his losses, frailties, and family in this unusual fiction.

Vilas is a Spanish poet, novelist, and essayist born in 1962 who has enjoyed critical and commercial success in his homeland with this book. Its narrator is a writer who’s the same age as Vilas and from the same area of Spain, so it’s possible there’s autofiction afoot. The year is 2015, and the narrator says he’s writing this book to address a malaise he links to “a blurry memory” of a flat tire on the way to a vacation in the mountain valley of Ordesa when he was a child. His mind journeys back to scenes of his own life, of his parents young and as they age, their deaths, two episodes when he was sexually abused, his heavy drinking. The self-described “chaotic narrator” shifts frequently between past and present and among details (including several photos) that range from the banal to the colorful and occasionally the weird. The tone is serious to the point of gloomy, and it may be a reader's yearning for humor that makes some of the stranger pronouncements and revelations read as tongue-in-cheek, like: “Until their eighteenth birthdays, children are blue.” Or: “I don’t iron underwear because nobody sees it.” (And one sentence later: “I don’t iron my briefs”; repetitiousness is a problem throughout.) At such times the writing recalls but doesn’t match the faux intellectual fun of Thomas Clerc’s Interior. This novel’s popularity in Spain could stem from its bitter comments on the country’s troubled history and economy, remarks that may not resonate with many American readers. But Vilas also conveys—and Rosenberg smoothly translates—many moments of pain and happiness any reader might recognize as the narrator plunges into the maelstrom of closely examined memory.

A dark and challenging but emotionally rich work.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08404-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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