Whether you call it “postmodern” or “meta-fiction,” there isn’t much here.

DON JUAN

HIS OWN VERSION

A slim, odd volume in which the Austrian novelist (Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, 2007, etc.) spins a story about storytelling.

The German-language original from 2004 receives an English-language translation, but the anonymous narrator of this tale fails to translate Don Juan’s exploits into a compelling account. And perhaps that’s part of the point, for despite the subtitle “His Own Version,” the voice throughout is that of a chef whose country French inn is all but shuttered until it receives as its guest (or fugitive) a breathless Don Juan, on the run from a motorcycle couple whose lovemaking had apparently been interrupted by his voyeurism. This Don Juan is not the figure of literary history, but a contemporary version (or almost contemporary, as one reference to a Walkman instead of an iPod suggests). Don Juan stays at the inn exactly a week, and on each day relates to the innkeeper what had happened on that day of the previous week—a different adventure, a different woman, a different country. Or does he? The narrator himself has no gift for narration, and Don Juan doesn’t give him much with which to work. “Again he did not describe the woman to me—needless to say, she was ‘indescribably beautiful,’ ” says the narrator, who later refers to the “meager details” offered by the guest. “At least that is how I pictured it, without his offering any details,” admits the narrator in recounting another episode. So, instead of Don Juan’s own story, as promised by the subtitle, this is the narrator’s story, conjured by the barest of prompts from his subject. The reader might even suspect that this Don Juan doesn’t exist at all, for the narrator never quotes him directly. Instead, he provides a parenthetical hint as to the nature of his protagonist: “(I noticed how often in his story Don Juan used the indefinite pronoun ‘one’ instead of ‘I,’ as if it were self-evident that what he experienced was applicable to everyone.)”

Whether you call it “postmodern” or “meta-fiction,” there isn’t much here.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-14231-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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?

No Comments Yet

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

more