Bloody and bizarre.

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THE UNSUITABLE

A young Victorian woman avoids marriage at all costs—while being haunted by her dead mother.

“You killed me, remember that.” Pohlig’s debut novel opens with a conversation between Iseult Wince and her mother, who died giving birth to her. The midwife had to pull her out, leaving Iseult with a neck scar—which is where she believes her mother’s ghost lives. At 28 years old, she is nearing spinsterhood, and Mr. Wince, her father, desperately wants to marry her off. The idea of marriage terrifies Iseult; she sabotages nearly every setup and keeps a little black book called “The Unsuitables,” where she details her failed suitors. Mr. Wince is ruthlessly cruel to his daughter. His emotional abuse is unending to the point that even Iseult hopes he will hit her: “She wished he would, so their mutual hatred could at least be tangible instead of just another ghost in the house.” Luckily, she has Mrs. Pennington, her housekeeper and surrogate mother, who provides some of the kindness and emotional nurturing Iseult has been deprived of. Eventually, Mr. Wince finds a willing admirer in Jacob—a kind fellow outcast with a unique condition: His skin is silver. The forced engagement and impending wedding sends Iseult into further free fall. Her mother’s voice gets stronger and more cruel. Whether it’s with sewing scissors or pins, Iseult’s way of coping with her mother’s voice is self-harm and mutilation. Unfortunately, the novel is bloody and graphic in a way that sometimes feels gratuitous. Though there are moments of humor and levity, they are rare. Once such moment is when Iseult wonders what may be expected of her after marriage: “She had received the usual sex education of a moderately privileged Victorian woman—that is to say, none.” Despite a pitch-perfect final scene, the strange, grotesque novel has too much narrative fluff.

Bloody and bizarre.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-24628-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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