Think of this book as a haunted island with spectral voices and inscrutable mysteries.


The spirit of Bob Marley dominates this novel, which evokes the rich, bottom-heavy sounds of Marley’s music.

You can’t tell the living and the dead here without a score card, and a score card would be too linear a device for this magical realist tale spun by Douglas (Notes from a Writer’s Book of Cures and Spells, 2005, etc.). It’s hard to know which of the myriad narrative strands one should examine first, but we’ll start with the deaf woman named Leenah, who met and fell in love with Marley in 1977 when both were exiles from their Jamaican homeland living in London. Years later, the soul of the reggae superstar and icon of Rastafarianism is implanted into the body of a homeless man huddling in a clock tower in Kingston. The man is referred to throughout the book as a “Fall-down” or a “fallen angel,” and when Leenah, now back home, sees him on the streets, she alone recognizes him immediately as Marley, the father of her daughter, Anjahla. The clock tower itself has a past life of sorts: Centuries before, it was the site of a tree where a black slave boy was hung and was known from that time on as the “Half Way Tree.” Past and present become likewise intertwined throughout the book as such historic personages as Britain’s King Edward VII, black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie (referred to throughout as His Imperial Majesty or by the initials “H.I.M.”) make in-and-out appearances, sometimes to confer or get high with the reincarnated Marley in the clock tower. Douglas’ audacious, willful blend of surreal imagery, historic facts, and vividly rendered monologues from all her characters, whether Jamaican-born or not, seems at times to get away from her. Somehow, the spiraling, unwieldy mix is held together by its recurrent invocation of musical motifs borrowed from classic Caribbean pop (references to “background singers,” “dub-side chanting” and “bass-lines”) and, most of all, by the poetic fire of the author’s imagery. When at one point Leenah remembers the living Bob Marley as having “cheekbones which could balance an egg or a flame or a revolution,” it’s almost as if he’s in front of the reader, preparing to let loose a musical cry for freedom.

Think of this book as a haunted island with spectral voices and inscrutable mysteries.

Pub Date: July 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2786-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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