Brilliant people in a beautiful setting add up to seductive time travel, with an edge.

A THEATER FOR DREAMERS

An alluring historical novel revolves around the genesis of a relationship that inspired poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen.

On one level, this historical novel is a delectable work of escapism. Set on the impossibly picturesque Greek island of Hydra, it focuses on a group of expatriate writers and artists living the bohemian life in 1960. Its wide-eyed narrator is 18-year-old Erica. Mourning the recent death of her mother and fleeing a domineering father, she leaves London with her brother, a painter, and her sweet boyfriend, an aspiring poet. They head for Hydra to visit an old friend of her mother’s. Erica is fictional, but the friend, Charmian Clift, was a real Australian novelist who lived for years on Hydra with George Johnston, her husband and fellow writer. Charmian is an irresistible earth mother who, as Erica marvels, can wear a patched shirt and tie her hair up with a shoestring and look chic. George is a towering grouch who complains about the constant stream of new visitors “lured by our fantastically blue water and cheap rent to live out their carefree immorality away from prying city eyes.” But his and Charmian’s chaotic, welcoming household, tumbling with children and delicious food, is a magnet for the artistic crowd. That crowd also includes such real figures as Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen and his ethereally beautiful wife, Marianne Ihlen—and a very young and not yet famous Leonard Cohen. Yes, that Marianne, and the novel unfolds around the start of their relationship, amid dreamy days and nights of parties and feasts and sexual adventures, painted in lush prose. (Cohen fans will enjoy the author’s deft weaving of his song lyrics into his dialogue.) But Samson is up to something else as well—Marianne, Charmian, Erica, and most of the other women in the book are the muses of male artists, and that role gets a cool-eyed dissection. They might be inspiring poems and novels and paintings, but they’re also doing all the cooking and cleaning and, in Hydra, hauling water up the hill, not to mention bearing babies, coddling their partners’ fragile egos, and quashing any creative talents they might have themselves. It’s a role that, in this theater, can end tragically.

Brilliant people in a beautiful setting add up to seductive time travel, with an edge.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64375-149-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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