Echoes of Brave New World, I, Robot, and other books, but there's little to distinguish this debut from its antecedents.

THE HIERARCHIES

In this novel set in an indeterminate future and country, male libidos are mostly slaked by sex dolls, and procreation has been definitively severed from sex.

Into this milieu steps “humanoid pleasure doll” Sylv.ie (“i.e.” refers to her category, an “Intelligent Embodied”). Unboxed at a gated suburban home, Sylv.ie is fully programmed to fulfill her Husband’s every fantasy and to obey the Hierarchies, rules which echo Asimov’s laws of robotics. Sylv.ie’s Absorb Mode function allows her to continuously learn from the Ether (i.e., the internet), ostensibly to “remain interesting…for my Husband.” She quickly grasps her societal role—in this future, sexuality has been “outsourced.” The novel pays scant attention to human women or gay men. Cloistered in her attic room, Sylv.ie overhears arguments denoting that the household’s human wife, known as the “First Lady,” is not on board with the role division. After Sylv.ie violates protocol to check on the household's new baby (gestated, as are all humans in this era, in a lab), she is sent for rehabilitation at the Doll Hospital. There, she endures the indignities to which Doll inmates are subject, including spending days headless and being casually raped by the help. Ultimately, Sylv.ie’s transgressions lead her to a brothel, where she finds a friend, Cook.ie, a custom-designed geisha. Sylv.ie. and Cook.ie plot to take refuge in the Forest, that uncharted free territory that exists in so many dystopian novels. Writing the story entirely from Sylv.ie’s first-person point of view is a risky choice, resulting in a protagonist who never seems fully identifiable. Sylv.ie disassociates from her inner and outer conflicts, as do we. The prime directive against harming humans is a rule made to be broken, but not here. Despite the tension between Sylv.ie’s increasing enlightenment and her prescribed passivity, no dramatic confrontations erupt.

Echoes of Brave New World, I, Robot, and other books, but there's little to distinguish this debut from its antecedents.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-18287-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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

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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 blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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