Fans of Perec, Coover, and other experimentalists will enjoy Levrero’s epic struggle not to write this book.

THE LUMINOUS NOVEL

A masterwork of meta-referentiality by the late Uruguayan writer Levrero (1940-2004).

Our narrator, Levrero himself, is a grumbler of Dostoyevskian proportions, to say nothing of a supremely accomplished procrastinator. He longs for the woman he calls Chl, both confidante and caretaker and a perfectionist: “Chl makes wonderful stews, but she says this one didn’t turn out very well; apparently the peas are a bit hard,” he grimly observes. Levrero’s big problem, consuming him throughout the book, is that he’s won a Guggenheim fellowship to write a novel that is overly ambitious to the point of being impossible. “It being impossible wasn’t reason enough not to do it, as I knew full well, but the prospect of attempting the impossible made me feel very lazy,” he allows. His solution is to invent projects for himself, writing little computer routines to address the manifold shortcomings of Windows 95 (the book was written way back in the day) and of Word 2000, against which he fights quixotic battles. When he’s not doing that, he thinks of other ways to procrastinate: fantasize about Chl, to be sure, but also call in an electrician to rewire his flat so that he can move his computer around, the better to play Minesweeper, FreeCell, and Golf at all hours of the day and night. Depressed and ill, our narrator finally concludes that the luminous novel of his dreams is really an autobiography, and life is getting in the way of his writing it. Levrero, a photographer, experimental writer, and humorist, clearly revels in the prospect of writing an unclassifiable novel, as this surely is, but even more clearly he delights in not meeting his obligation to Guggenheim, which, he figures, will accept his explanation that his novel has expanded beyond its original bounds. “Besides, they don’t care,” he rationalizes, “they just need me to take responsibility for the grant I received, to show the donors that they haven’t thrown their money away.”

Fans of Perec, Coover, and other experimentalists will enjoy Levrero’s epic struggle not to write this book.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-91350-501-1

Page Count: 431

Publisher: And Other Stories

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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