Disappointing, because this author can do better.

MONA

In this third novel by Argentinian Oloixarac, an award ceremony for a major European literary prize takes an apocalyptic turn.

The eponymous protagonist, a Peruvian writer and doctoral candidate at Stanford, leaves California for Stockholm to attend the award ceremony for the prestigious Basske-Wortz literary prize. Drugged to the gills and covered in bruises from a night she can't remember, she sips Stoli on the plane, ignoring the messages on her phone and meditating on American racism: "American universities shared certain essential values with classical zoologists, for whom diversity was a mark of attraction and distinction." She and 12 other writers from around the world, all finalists, converge for four days of panels and lectures beside a Swedish lake. Oloixarac's debut novel, Savage Theories (2017), was a bestseller in Argentina and catapulted her to a certain literary fame; she describes this congress of international writers with a jaundiced and convincing eye. (As the French finalist puts it, literary festivals are good because "the memory of them is so repulsive, and you end up so disgusted by the writing ‘community’ that you have no choice but to stay home and write.") Savage Theories displayed the dizzying, at times manic, promise of a writer making original connections between wide-ranging subjects. This is a narrower effort and a considerably less successful one. There's a lot of material here: ideas about what it means to write, about politics and South American literature ("Now that leftist culture is mainstream, it means absolutely nothing. Think about it: What does it mean to be a leftist? Eating vegan?"); a decapitated fox; Mona's mysterious bruises; a mythological sea serpent; plenty of nudity and several sex scenes ("She’d waxed a few days beforehand and her pores grazed the pink fabric of her panties like the wet snouts of tiny rabbits"). But there's little narrative cohesion between them. After reading a draft of her next book, Mona's French translator asks, "Why should I care about these people?" Why, indeed?

Disappointing, because this author can do better.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-3742-1189-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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

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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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