THE JOURNAL OF MRS. PEPYS

PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE

What a splendid idea for a novel: the private diary kept (in French, for secrecy) by the wife of English literature’s most celebrated diarist—and British novelist George, best known for such suspense thrillers as Acid Drop (1975), carries it off with considerable success. French-born Elizabeth, the daughter of a Huguenot scientist, married up-and-coming civil servant Samuel Pepys when she was 15. In George’s skillful reimagining of the historical record, she begins her journal after approximately a year of marriage. It’s a lively, sometimes truculent accounting of household duties and annoyances, the couple’s several acquaintances with nobility and royalty (as “Sam” rises in the public world, taking such government positions as Secretary to the British Admiralty, and is accepted into London’s Royal Society), and miscellaneous other honors and excitements. Elizabeth is a beauty who unwittingly male attention (such as that of the Earl of Sandwich, Sam’s epicurean patron); a woman of spirit not at all slavishly devoted to her husband (“He isn’t all my life”), who enjoys as well the satisfactions of reading romantic poetry, and can turn a polished aphoristic phrase worthy of Jane Austen (“the nature of fondness [consists] not so much in tenderness as in dread of what loss of the other would mean”). Her diary entries, recorded at irregular intervals, vividly detail such momentous events as the “plague summer” of 1665 and the Great Fire of London. But the epochal events of Elizabeth’s life are her failure to conceive (one entry is a plaintive “list of things to do for childlessness”) and the accidental discovery of Sam’s dalliance with a young housemaid” a crisis that gives Elizabeth an upper hand she never thereafter relinquishes until her death (at age 29) of typhoid fever. An ingenious fictional invention—and, as it happens, an appealing companion volume to Samuel Pepys’ own wonderfully entertaining Diary.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-20554-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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