While there are echoes of Borges and Bolaño here, the synthesis of ideas and the manic intelligence are wholly new....

SAVAGE THEORIES

Set in Buenos Aires, Oloixarac's debut novel ranges widely, from initiation rites to computer hacking, from human prehistory to ketamine-fueled parties.

The mysterious narrator stalks a middle-aged professor, desperate to reveal that she alone understands his brilliant Theory of Egoic Transmissions ("soon I will illuminate the dark side of your philosophy"). Parallel to this narrative runs a sexual picaresque, beginning "amid the violence of the Years of Lead, in the late 1970s." The heroine of this thread, Kamtchowsky, and her boyfriend, Pabst, become involved with another couple. Dark and humorous in turns, the tone is wry, erudite, raunchy, and the text is sprinkled with references to politics, philosophy, anthropology, and pop culture and the occasional illustration. Academic posturing is mocked. A character finds himself "caught in a burst of metatheory as regarded the meaning of jerking himself off." At the heart of Oloixarac's ambitious book lie the human relationship to violence and the significance of our prehistoric shift from prey to weapon-wielding predator. The narrator is interested in "an ontology of human acts," "an anthropology of voluptuousness and war." She sees the individual existing within "a space dense with ghosts and purposeful geometries" where "the totality of past and present points of view...pierce through space, and one another." This could also describe the structure of the novel, making for a sometimes-dizzying ride. The narrator embarks on a calculated seduction of a former leftist guerilla and toys with him, the prey becoming predator. Meanwhile, Kamtchowsky, "little diva of amateur porn," invents a computer game based on Argentina's Dirty War. A hack embedded within it makes possible a project that maps Buenos Aires in a wholly new way ("The city was an utter mess. And yet it was beautiful"), illuminating "the cyclical history of a country where events occurred and then revolved around one another, merely existing, unable to account for themselves."

While there are echoes of Borges and Bolaño here, the synthesis of ideas and the manic intelligence are wholly new. Brilliant, original, and very fun to read.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61695-735-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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