BRODECK

Consistently involving but ultimately unsatisfying.

Man’s distrust of strangers, and the primal violence it may engender, is the theme of this fable from French novelist Claudel (By a Slow River, 2006, etc.), which won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2007.

Much of the action occurs in an isolated mountain village in the European heartland. The time is a convincing fusion of modern and medieval; while there are parallels to Nazi Germany, the peasant villagers belong in a Breughel painting. The eponymous narrator was not born in the village (a key point), but was brought there as a four-year-old war orphan by kindly old Fedorine. Brodeck thrives after that and goes to university in the distant capital, where he meets his true love, Amelia. When the city is torn by anti-foreigner riots, they flee to the village, which Brodeck believes is a safe haven. That’s an illusion. The army occupies the village; Brodeck’s non-native origins are revealed; and he is sent to a death camp with other “foreigners.” Against the odds, however, he survives and returns home. One day, a strangely dressed fellow arrives with horse and donkey. He is benevolence itself, but the ultimate outsider; Brodeck calls him De Anderer (The Other). The villagers’ welcome turns to suspicion when De Anderer refuses to reveal his past; tension mounts, and he is murdered at the inn. Some 40 men participate, but not Brodeck. Claudel constantly shuffles the chronological order and passes up opportunities for suspense as he presses his inquiry into the nature of evil. His insights are not especially original: We are all implicated in wrongdoing, even the gentle Brodeck; remembering atrocities threatens the powers-that-be. Claudel wisely withholds the exact circumstances of De Anderer’s murder. Less is more, just as the quiet moments affirming the purity of Brodeck’s love for Amelia, their child and Fedorine are more resonant than the luridly detailed horrors of the death camp.

Consistently involving but ultimately unsatisfying.

Pub Date: June 23, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-385-52724-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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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

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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