A colorful but confusing and ultimately disappointing work by a great writer.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Sex, money, scandal, and power dance through this uneven tale of gossip and politics among the high-enders and media lowlifes of Lima, Peru.

The Nobel Prize–winning author opens with two wealthy women, Marisa and Chabela, discovering the amorous benefits of their friendship. Marisa’s industrialist husband, Enrique, faces blackmail in the next chapter when some nasty photos from a drunken orgy fall into the hands of a scandal-sheet editor named Garro. Enrique’s problems escalate because he refuses to pay up and the photos appear in print. His wife’s anger eventually subsides enough to reward him with a three-way with her and Chabela. Meanwhile side stories develop involving Garro’s top reporter, Julieta, aka Shorty, and an old man named Juan whose livelihood was destroyed by Garro’s media attacks. Enrique will come under suspicion when Garro is found brutally murdered; he spends a brief nightmarish time in jail. But it is Shorty who leads the book to what is often for Vargas Llosa (The Discreet Hero, 2015, etc.) the inevitable political freight when she is summoned to a session with Vladimiro Montesinos, aka the Doctor, the actual powerful head of Peru’s intelligence service in the 1990s and right hand of President Alberto Fujimoro. Vargas Llosa was politically active and even ran for the presidency of his native Peru, losing to Fujimoro. There may be elements of payback in this novel, although it comes late—the historical denouement occurred in 2000—and seems superfluous given the known fates of the two officials. The story’s strongest moments and characters revolve around the impoverished Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, especially Shorty and Juan and a few minor characters. By comparison, the lurid, telenovela lives of the wealthy supply only broad, unresolved ironies about class—in more than one definition—and some cringe-inducing sex scenes.

A colorful but confusing and ultimately disappointing work by a great writer.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-15512-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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