The nature of narrative itself would seem to be the focus here in a novel that challenges readers to connect the...


A labyrinthine narrative that wends its way through classical myth, Shakespearean theater, and childlike fairy tale as it twists toward a tentative contemporary conclusion.

British author Haddon has never written anything like the same book twice, but his fourth novel is in some ways even more audacious and ambitious than his breakthrough debut (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, 2003). The plot propels itself forward at a furious clip, yet key characters disappear (and occasionally reappear) as the basic premise hopscotches centuries and countries. It begins with a bang, or rather a crash. A very rich man loses his very beautiful and pregnant wife when the small plane on which he never should have let her fly crashes into farmland, the pilot momentarily distracted by her beauty. A doctor who happens to be passing assists in the birth of her daughter, whose life begins as her mother’s ends. The forlorn father can find life’s only consolation in his daughter, named Angelica, and they share an incestuously secret life amid “the vapour of fantasy which always surrounds the rich, powerful and reclusive.” Angelica has some sense that these intimacies are wrong, a violation, but it is only with the arrival of the modern equivalent of a handsome prince that she feels she needs to escape; she needs this hero to rescue her, for, upon their first meeting, “she is already in thrall to an imagined future in which he takes her away from all this, and the knowledge that the fantasy is ridiculous does nothing to sour its addictive sweetness.” The attempted rescue almost results in a murder, but the prince himself escapes. At which point the story shifts to a different father and daughter, a king and a princess, who may well be an earlier incarnation of the same father and daughter. This tale has proven captivating since classical times and was popularly given form in the Shakespearean play Pericles. So Pericles becomes a character in this novel, as does Shakespeare, or perhaps his ghost. Pericles marries the princess and becomes a mourning father whose pregnant wife dies during an ill-advised voyage. Or did she die? The adventures of Pericles consume 14 years of the narrative, in which he grieves his wife and might have to save his own daughter. And Angelica? The novel ends with her yet seems to open into a whole new world.

The nature of narrative itself would seem to be the focus here in a novel that challenges readers to connect the multidimensional dots.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54431-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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

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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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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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