HOTEL SPLENDID

In these three slim, yet amazingly potent, novels, French author Redonnet (translated into English here for the first time) creates a triptych joined by theme, symbol, voice, style, and temperament. In the first book, Hìtel Splendid, an unnamed narrator struggles to run the family hotel, which was the epitome of convenience in her grandmother's day but now suffers daily plagues of rats, rotting wood, failing plumbing, leaky roofs, and floods and bacteria from the swamp on which it was built. If this isn't enough, she also cares for two harping sisters: Ada, the sickly one, and Adel, the failed actress. In the second novel, Forever Valley, a teenage girl, one of three inhabitants of a hamlet that lost its villagers to another valley below it, comes of age when the parish father, whom she looks after, sends her to become a prostitute in the dance hall across the road. This new independence allows her to pursue a project of looking for the dead by digging pits in the parish garden—but instead of skeletons, she discovers the water that will soon flood Forever Valley and bring electricity to the valley below. Finally, Rose Mellie Rose tells the story of Mellie, an abandoned baby raised by an old woman named Rose in a souvenir shop on a waterfall miles from the nearest town. Rose dies when Mellie turns 12; Mellie gets her period, travels to town, has sex with the truck driver who gives her a ride, discovers that she lives on an island, learns to read and write, becomes a municipal worker, marries a failing fisherman who refuses to accept that the lagoon has gone dry, gets pregnant, leaves her baby (also named Rose) in the grotto where Mellie herself was found as an infant, and, hemorrhaging, goes to the beach to die. Any reader will see that these tales have much in common. Each features a commanding female protagonist trapped in her place of origin, neither able nor wanting to escape from the home that gave her life but which now threatens to destroy her. The narrator of Hìtel Splendid never questions her doomed quest to keep the establishment running, the girl in Forever Valley leaves only when dam construction forces her to, and Mellie turns down several job offers on the continent and submits to nature's call to death. Redonnet's prose reads like the barest poetry, devoid of description, while still managing to paint vivid pictures of the rich landscapes that play a vital role in every story. Most impressively, these three tales represent an evolution of the feminine from the alienated, sexless martyr to the prostituted prepubescent on the verge of self-knowledge to the self-loving, self-determined Mellie, who dies to give her baby a chance at a better life. To her credit, Redonnet packs these jewels with much more: highly personal images of utopia, the importance of heritage, the necessity of burying the dead to approach the future. Like traveling a very long, very dark tunnel into a blinding, bright, beautiful light.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 1994

ISBN: 0-8032-8953-7

Page Count: 123

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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

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CIRCE

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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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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