Concise but densely packed and subtle in its satire. Well-known in Russia, Slavnikova is a writer American readers will want...

THE MAN WHO COULDN'T DIE

Darkly sardonic novel of life in a post-Soviet Russia that keeps looking longingly to its totalitarian past.

Alexei Afanasievich Kharitonov served in the Great Patriotic War as a scout, his specialty dispatching the enemy by strangulation “without noise or weapon.” Now, half a century later, he lies paralyzed in his family’s dreary apartment, felled by a stroke. For a decade and a half, his body has stubbornly refused to die. This is all to the good, as far as his family is concerned, for they rely on his pension. In a scenario reminiscent of the 2003 German film Good Bye, Lenin!, his stepdaughter, Marina, who “had divined in the decrepit general secretary’s replacement by a younger, more energetic one not a pledge of Soviet life’s continuity but the beginning of the end,” concocts a scheme to keep the apartment just as it was in the Soviet days even though things have changed irrevocably outside. Marina edits the daily edition of Pravda to be sure that no word of the collapse of the Soviet Union sneaks through, not quite sure whether her stepfather is able to comprehend anything at all but taking no chances. He does, and he wants nothing more than to end it all, having silently “declared war on his own immortality.” Will he live forever in that shrine to Soviet life, complete with a portrait of Leonid Brezhnev that Marina stole from a university journalism archive? Slavnikova’s novel, following on her 2017, which won the 2006 Russian Booker Prize, is oddly timely, for there are all sorts of understated hints about voter fraud, graft, payoffs, and the endless promises of politicians who have no intention of keeping them. It is also deftly constructed, portraying a world and a cast of characters who are caught between the orderly if drab world of old and the chaos of the “new rich” in a putative democracy.

Concise but densely packed and subtle in its satire. Well-known in Russia, Slavnikova is a writer American readers will want to have more of.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-231-18595-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

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?

THE SECRET HISTORY

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more