Satire specializes in ugly characters, and this novel is overfilled with them, which proves an ungainly fit in the lighter...

IMPERFECT BLISS

A slapstick rendering of Pride and Prejudice also skewers high cultured academia and lowbrow reality TV.

In this modern version of an Austen marriage novel, four beautiful sisters (American, biracial and college educated) find themselves at the whim of their imperious mother. Forsythia Harcourt, originally from Jamaica, now living in Maryland and fantasizing about infiltrating the British throne, wants good marriages for her girls. Oldest Victoria is suspiciously unmarried, and Bliss is a huge disappointment—newly divorced from her college sweetheart (a lowly Latino revolutionary, no less!), she and daughter Bella have moved back home while she finishes her doctorate. Charlotte is in high school, so Forsythia can only depend on Diana, who does not disappoint. Diana is chosen to appear on The Virgin, in which men will compete to capture both her heart and hymen. Soon the Harcourt house is filled with a film crew: Sue, an overbearing network executive and her androgynous lackey, Punch; macho Dario, the show’s producer and director; and Wyatt, the handsome host. Diana and Forsythia are thrilled, Bliss and her father are mortified that Diana’s chastity will be auctioned for ratings, and Charlotte is furious at being ignored. But this is mostly background chatter for the real plot, which is discovering who will please the lovelorn, prickly Bliss. Her academic advisor Jordan McIntosh is dashing and recently widowed, but misread signals would be humiliating. Wyatt is great looking and considerate, but Bliss can never get him alone. And then there’s sexy Dario, whom Bella adores but Bliss can barely stomach. The show takes the whole family to Austria and England for the suitors to perform a series of ridiculous challenges, and minor dramas ensue, but the novel is mostly concerned with Bliss and her stubborn attempts to keep true love at bay.

Satire specializes in ugly characters, and this novel is overfilled with them, which proves an ungainly fit in the lighter realm of romance.

Pub Date: July 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2382-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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