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By blurring over psychological complexity, de Coster makes it more difficult to sympathize with her taxing characters.

A family drama unfolds in a wealthy housing estate in Belgian author de Coster's first novel to be translated into English.

If the family is the basic unit of society, is the family drama the basic unit of fiction? Maybe not—but it’s not going anywhere. De Coster’s take on the oft-visited genre lands us in a mountain housing estate near Flanders. Uptight Mieke is the mother, doleful Stefaan is the father, and rebellious Sarah is their daughter. They’re an upper-class family with their own fair share of demons: Mieke’s brother seems to be involved in uncouth business dealings; Sarah seems to flirt with an eating disorder; and Stefaan is in danger of falling into a family pattern of depression and suicide. The novel begins in 1980 and ends in 2013; in between, Sarah grows up, and Mieke and Stefaan grow older, but it’s hard to say whether anyone in the story really grows as a person. These are rather hateful characters; there isn’t much to admire about any one of them—and after Stefaan engages in some violence later in the book, it’s hard to even sympathize with his inner struggles. De Coster is a smart, witty writer with a real talent for storytelling, but she seems to rush through the big stuff—big emotions, big changes—which makes it harder to really believe in her invented worlds. The novel alternates between Mieke’s, Stefaan’s, and Sarah’s points of view, but there is also occasional reference to a plural “we,” a kind of invisible Greek-style chorus (“We climb the mountain slowly”; “We step away from the path to the front door”; “It charges us with energy and passion”). Unfortunately, these “we” moments occur too occasionally; they seem to be a quirk of the storytelling, an ill-thought-out afterthought more than anything else.

By blurring over psychological complexity, de Coster makes it more difficult to sympathize with her taxing characters.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64286-004-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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