Cerebral yet heartfelt exercise in connecting unlikely dots.


Russian director commandeers a woman’s dreams, forcing her to redefine her tortured notions of family, in Cooley’s second (after The Archivist, 1998).

Camilla Archer, daughter of deceased master perfumer Jordan Archer, should be happy. The owner of a theatrical curio shop in Manhattan, she’s enjoying a playful affair with consummate handyman Nick. Her group includes Stuart, a wisecracking gay mentor, her ex-husband Sam (they split because she didn’t want children) and her cousin Eve’s daughter, Danny. But Camilla’s dreams are being stage-managed by a mysterious masked figure who will be revealed as the spirit-essence of Vsevolod (“Seva”) Meyerhold, a Soviet theater director eliminated in a Stalinist purge. He designs Camilla’s dream-plays in order to groom her as a worthy repository of Meyerhold’s contrary imagination, which calls for the expression of sorrow through cartwheels and taking roles as sad but ebullient commedia dell’ arte characters. These unsettling nocturnal events prod Camilla to come clean with her intimates, whose fierce loyalty to our prickly and recalcitrant heroine is rendered believable by Cooley’s assured yet unassuming eloquence. What does Camilla, at age 50, have to hide? Plenty—like having assisted, 20 years earlier, in the suicide of her terminally ill father. Eve, whom Camilla grew up with (and who has now recently died of meningitis), was always obsessed with Jordan, and even now Camilla (whose birth—unplanned—caused her mother’s death) still harbors resentment of Jordan’s seeming preference for Eve, a reference that may have resulted in the quasi-incestuous coupling that may have resulted in Danny. Though visceral imagery and scented symbols infuse and deepen the narrative, there are times when the interludes of Meyerhold’s real-life ordeal threaten to trivialize the present-day story. Still, motifs of artful disguise and neglectful or surrogate parentage intersect like nested Russian dolls as these curiously joined lives play out in an atmosphere as insular and fractious as that created by a cell of feuding Bolsheviks.

Cerebral yet heartfelt exercise in connecting unlikely dots.

Pub Date: May 9, 2005

ISBN: 0-316-15901-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet