Not entirely to contemporary tastes but a valuable addition to modernist European literature.

AGATHE, OR THE FORGOTTEN SISTER

A reconstructed novel that brings a “forgotten sister” to play in a winding narrative.

Now considered a classic of early-20th-century literature, Musil’s The Man Without Qualities (1943) presents a neurasthenic fellow who lives entirely too much inside his own head, a mathematician who is indifferent to bourgeois life but partakes of it all the same. At the start of the present novel, Frankensteined from chapters of the former and bits of the thousands of pages of manuscript Musil left behind, Ulrich is disembarking from a train: “Drops of the general conversation that had seeped into him during the trip were now draining away,” and now, preparing for the funeral of his father—who has helpfully sent notice of his own impending death—he’s left to his own musings. There’s plenty to think about: His long-lost younger sister, Agathe, widowed and remarried, is in town for the occasion, and she announces that she’s leaving her husband, a bore of a pedagogue. “Let him sue!” she says brightly, whereupon Ulrich is moved to remark, in his otherworldly way, “inner oblivion is more loathsome than anything.” In time, Agathe has moved in with Ulrich, and the relationship becomes—well, let’s just say there are universal strictures governing their behavior, which, though more cerebral than physical, in fact does have something of the physical to it “that with great tenderness paralyzed their limbs and at the same time enchanted them with an indescribable sensitivity.” This is very much a European sort of tale, reminiscent of Goethe here and Pessoa there, without much in the way of action but very long on talk—talk of love here, of misunderstanding and grief there: “Someone who talks a lot," says Ulrich, “discharges another person’s grief drop by drop, the way rain discharges the electricity in a cloud.” That, or the chatterbox numbs the listener, which happens from time to time even as Musil carefully structures his twisting, unexpected storyline.

Not entirely to contemporary tastes but a valuable addition to modernist European literature.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-383-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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