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

THE PORPOISE

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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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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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