Some purists may object to the small liberties Headley has taken with the text, but her version is altogether brilliant.



An iconic work of early English literature comes in for up-to-the-minute treatment.

In her novel The Mere Wife (2018), Headley imagined Grendel’s mother as a PTSD–haunted Iraq War veteran guarding her son from the encroachment of suburban civilization on their wilderness home. Telling that tale, she recounts in the introduction here, put her closely in touch with the original and with a woman who “had a ferocious look and seemed to give precisely zero fucks.” From the very opening of the poem—“Bro!” in the place of the sturdy Saxon exhortation “Hwaet”—you know this isn’t your grandpappy’s version of Beowulf. Headley continues, putting her own spin on the hemistiches and internal rhymes of the original: “Tell me we still know how to talk about kings! In the old days, / everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only / stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.” Grendel, she has it, was a “woe-walker, / unlucky, fucked by Fate.” The language may keep Headley’s version from high school curricula, but the sentiment is exactly right: Grendel is an outcast and monster through no fault of his own while the men who array themselves against him are concerned with attaining fame and keeping the reputation of being good for eternity while having a nice flagon of mead at the end of a day of hacking away. Headley’s language and pacing keep perfect track with the events she describes, as when a fire-breathing dragon visits the warriors’ hall: “Soon Beowulf received a blistering missive. / His own hall, his heart-home, had combusted. / He’d been ghost-throned by the skyborn gold-holder.” “Ghost-throned” is a wonderful neologism, and if phrases like “Everybody’s gotta learn sometime” and “His guys tried” seem a touch too contemporary, they give the 3,182-line text immediacy without surrendering a bit of its grand poetry.

Some purists may object to the small liberties Headley has taken with the text, but her version is altogether brilliant.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-11003-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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


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.


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


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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