A hazy portrait of a desperate historical moment.

MOONSTONE

THE BOY WHO NEVER WAS

Award-winning novelist, poet, and Björk collaborator Sjón (From the Mouth of the Whale, 2008, etc.) takes direct aim at Icelandic conservatism in this slim, meditative novella about a gay teen in Reykjavik on the eve of the Spanish Flu, circa 1918.

The story opens with Máni Steinn, a 16-year-old boy, engaged in sex with an older man, a matter-of-fact scene handled with workmanlike precision by the author. “Without a word the man flings a crumpled bank note at him and hastens away in the direction of town,” Sjón writes. “The boy smoothes out the note and grins; there are two of them, a whole fifteen krónur.” Despite dabbling in prostitution, Máni leads a solitary existence. His only occasional companion is a motorcycle-riding tough girl named Sóla G, beloved to Máni because she resembles the famous French actress Musidora. The book itself is a love letter to the cinema, as Máni spends most of his waking hours enraptured in the black-and-white flickering images, even as the flu begins to cut down the people of Reykjavik in scores. When the boy contracts the illness, the novel succumbs to hallucinatory passages interspersed with foreboding images, a condition from which neither Máni nor the story ever fully recovers. One particularly eerie moment stands out, as Máni and Sóla G prowl the cinemas fumigating them with chlorine gas, dressed in black. “The greenish yellow gas that had lately felled young men on the battlefields of Europe now drifts and rolls through the picture houses of Reykjavik,” Sjón writes. The novel eventually closes its circle—the boy survives and grows into adulthood in England and becomes involved with the burgeoning surrealist film movement—but the novel’s real point is for Sjón to pay tribute to an uncle who died of AIDS in 1993, a fact that only appears in the novel’s very last line.

A hazy portrait of a desperate historical moment.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-3742-1243-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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