The cave art is great, the rest less gripping.

THE CAVES OF PÉRIGORD

A fourth novel from journalist and CNN commentator Walker (The President We Deserve: Bill Clinton, His Rise, Falls and Comebacks, 1996, etc.).

Art historian Lydia Dean, 30, works for a London auction house and is offered by Major Manners, a divorced British officer, a large flat chunk of clay with a marvelously well-painted bull on it, which his father brought from France after WWII. She dates it at 15,000 b.c., obviously from a prehistoric somewhere like Lascaux. The scaled-down bull on this painting, however, is ten or twenty times smaller than a bull in any known cave painting, the smallness and excellence of the image pointing to an advance in that art. Lydia explains to Major Manners that his late father’s rock is of such high historic interest that no auction house would touch it, since it has no provenance and quite possibly will cause an international scandal should France demand it back. And then the rock is burgled from the auction house. Time leaps backward 17,000 years, and we’re with cave folk in the Vézère Valley, where the apprentice young cave painter Deer (he’s great at swimming deer) has fallen for young Little Moon, herself secretly a gifted painter. But Keeper of the Bulls, the top cave painter, wants Little Moon for himself. Then we leap to 1943 and Major Manners’s father, Captain Jack Manners, of the Special Operations Executive, landing in France to help the Resistance, which is disastrously split into political factions that foresee their own postwar battles. Even so, Jack must help blow up bridges and attract Nazi focus away from the forthcoming D-day invasion. Eventually, he stores his large stock of armaments in a cave accidentally reopened by a German mortar shell. Meanwhile, Deer and Little Moon run off and find their own white chalk cave where—freeing art from the shackles of religion—they explore new dimensions in rendering and portraiture.

The cave art is great, the rest less gripping.

Pub Date: March 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-2284-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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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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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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