A captivating tale gently spun.

GARDEN BY THE SEA

Amid a lush landscape, wealthy young Spaniards play at joy.

In a novel notable for its graceful, restrained prose—sensitively rendered by translators Tennent and Relaño—Catalan fiction writer Rodoreda (1908-1983) (War, So Much War, 2015, etc.) creates a finely etched portrait of 1920s Spanish society, as seen through the eyes of a quietly attentive gardener. “I’ve always enjoyed knowing what happens to people,” the gardener remarks in the book’s opening line, recalling, from the vantage of old age, six summers when he worked for the newly married Senyoret Francesc and his wife at their seaside villa outside of Barcelona. Tending his plants, the gardener has ample opportunity to observe the “cheerfulness and ostentation” of his employers and their guests, whose superficial revelry is blighted by suffering, loss, and failed dreams. From Quima, the easily affronted cook, who gets details from the maids; Toni, a stable hand who self-importantly calls himself a riding instructor; the laconic local innkeeper; and even the postman, the gardener is privy to an endless stream of gossip about the “fools,” as Quima calls them, “who create a lot of work for the rest of us.” Designing the beds, growing seedlings, replanting, and weeding take mindful care and sometimes exhausting effort. The garden itself, described in sensuous detail, takes a prominent role, an expression of the gardener’s aesthetic sensibility and of the arrogance and self-absorption of its owners. Justifiably proud of his plants, the gardener becomes irritated when guests pick flowers indiscriminately; and he is incredulous when ordered to remove a swath of flowerbeds to accommodate guests’ cars: “Do you suppose a flowerbed in full bloom is like a chair,” he retorts, “and you can just move it around as you please?” But for the wealthy class, the garden is a mere prop: The owner of a neighboring villa, for example, hurries to plant some greenery as decor for a party. More than once, seeing his own flowerbeds ruined, the gardener is pained “to think about the gladiolus and the fate they had met.” But, he acknowledges with calm resignation, “those who have the money make the rules.”

A captivating tale gently spun.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948830-08-9

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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

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

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • 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

Did you like this book?

more