An intriguing, timely, and terrifying portent of life after Covid-19.

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THE COLDNESS OF OBJECTS

A gay man questions Britain’s repressive new political regime in this satirical, speculative novel by Cacoyannis, author of Finger of an Angel(2019).

The year is 2030, and 70-year-old Englishman Anthony Pablo Rubens is about to receive an unexpected special delivery that could change the course of his life. It’s a summons informing him that he’s been selected for “Museum Service”—and he doesn’t know exactly what that entails. It turns out to be a scheme introduced by the Government Party, which came to power in the United Kingdom with a landslide victory in 2024 in the wake of a viral pandemic that “exhausted the world.” The Party offered simple and deadly solutions, inciting racial hatred and promising the abolition of a trial by jury. Museum Service, it’s revealed, involves uprooting Anthony’s life—possessions and all—and exhibiting him in a cubicle in the People’s Museum, where party members can observe him going about a daily routine. The narrative flips back half a century to show Anthony as a young man navigating London’s gay scene; one night he has a chance encounter with Joe Devin, who will later become a Government Party minister. The novel also describes Anthony’s loving relationship with his ailing partner, Malcolm, and his closeness to his sister Eunice, whose political leanings echo those of their grandfather, who fought against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Things become tense when Anthony’s inquisitiveness results in his being labeled a “pedant” by the government and when he learns that Eunice was similarly summoned shortly before her death.

Immediate comparison will be made with the work of George Orwell, whose work is specifically referenced: “Mr Rubens suddenly felt terribly alone, living unloved and unnoticed in a nightmare worse than 1984.” However, this is by no means an ersatz rewrite of a literary classic. Cacoyannis tells a story that feels both fresh and alarming in how it identifies and amplifies concerns of our time, as when it shows life becoming anodyne as a consequence of surveillance: “bioelectric cars whizzed past with hardly a sound, at set speeds that could not be exceeded. Cyclists only cycled in the designated lanes. Smart phones weren’t so smart any more, but threatened to be smart enough to spy.” For the author, love is the antidote to a complicit society rendered indifferent to authoritarian rule. Cacoyannis’ elegant and tenderly observant prose captures how individual lives interconnect: “Anthony’s ‘gift’ seemed to always cast life in a shadow, Malcolm’s was to inundate its mysteries with light.” In previous works, the author has painstakingly created psychologically complex casts of characters, but he doesn’t apply the same level of detail to the minor players here. This is less important, however, because in this novel, the primary focus is excavating the horrors of a society rather than the internal worlds of diverse individuals. Overall, Cacoyannis has written a thoroughly gripping novel, using the rhetoric of a real-life pandemic to fashion a chilling vision of an abnormal “new normal” to come.

An intriguing, timely, and terrifying portent of life after Covid-19.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-56-036884-5

Page Count: 269

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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