Kemp writes with a careful restraint that makes the emotional explosions all the more powerful when they come.

MARGUERITE

Centering her first novel around a rural French village and the young Parisian who has come there as a traveling nurse, British author Kemp writes about the cost of suppressed passions—love, guilt, revenge—and the risk of secrecy.

Twenty-four-year-old Marguerite Demers is caring for the elderly, gravely ill Jérôme Lanvier at his worn-down estate outside the village of Saint-Sulpice. Marguerite has taken the job to avoid Paris, her well-to-do parents, and guilty memories concerning her sister, Cassandre, four years younger than her, who came down with meningitis when Marguerite was 15. Marguerite’s nursing career is a form of repentance for not having saved her sister. Secretive, obsessively self-blaming Marguerite relishes isolation, but she is sucked into incendiary undercurrents roiling within the village and inside Jérôme’s family. Crises arise from crossed purposes, not simple misunderstandings; Kemp doesn't let her characters off the hook that easily: They make choices, often unwise, that affect not only themselves, but others. Their opposing needs, desires, and angers tighten like a noose around the characters’ lives. Marguerite allows herself to become a pawn in the hostilities between her difficult patient and his adult sons. Jérôme is no stock literary curmudgeon with a soft heart. Always a bullying tyrant to his three resentful, still needy sons, Jérôme knows they hate him and hates them back. Meanwhile, Suki Lacourse, a local villager’s Iranian wife, tries to befriend Marguerite as a fellow outsider. Suki harbors deep bitterness toward the local women who never accepted her, in particular Brigitte Brochon, whose husband, Henri, rejected Suki’s sexual advances years before. Desperately in love with Henri, aware she is not his equal in looks or brains, Brigitte feels threatened by attractive, smart women like Suki and now Marguerite. But Henri, the one man in town who has won Jerome’s respect, cannot escape his own secret and accompanying shame. When he and Marguerite come together, the repercussions are disastrous.

Kemp writes with a careful restraint that makes the emotional explosions all the more powerful when they come.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984877-83-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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