Bloody and bizarre.

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. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

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. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014


The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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