A collection of stories as beautiful and strange as the women who inspired them.

ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN

STORIES

In her second story collection, Bergman tells the forgotten tales of women hovering on the edges of history.

From Allegra Byron, the poet's illegitimate daughter, to Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece, this book collects notable women whose lives have been forgotten. As the protagonist of "Who Killed Dolly Wilde?" muses, “[m]aybe the world had been bad to its great and unusual women”—and Bergman seeks to rectify this by bringing their glories and sorrows sharply to life. The tales focus on the characters' changed lives after near-fame and are often narrated by ancillary characters, creating uniquely observant perspectives. In various settings—lavish but morgue-quiet bedrooms, cheerless Italian convents, remote islands—the women deal with their trials large and small. In "The Autobiography of Allegra Byron," a nun struggles as 4-year-old Allegra pines for her famous father, who never visits the convent where she lives despite her constant letters and worsening illness. "The Siege at Whale Cay" finds Joe Carstairs, the fastest woman on water, lording over her own private island but suffering from post-traumatic stress after serving as an ambulance driver in World War II. And Romaine Brooks, a formerly famous artist who hasn’t painted in 40 years, spits constant, bitter orders at her servant, Mario—until he turns the tables in the final, mesmerizing paragraphs of "Romaine Remains." "The Internees," though more snapshot than story, provides a vivid and moving account of the women of Bergen-Belsen accepting boxes of expired lipstick during their camp’s liberation: “We had pink wax on our rotten teeth. We were human again. We were women.” Though some stories seem to reveal more about their fictional narrators than about the women themselves, this gives the collection a unified feel and helps readers see how little the public has understood about these women and their genius. Only "The Lottery, Redux," a spinoff of the Shirley Jackson tale, seems obviously symbolic and mars this otherwise original and surprising collection. 

A collection of stories as beautiful and strange as the women who inspired them.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8656-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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