An exquisite addition to any library of the dark, the bleak, and the absurd, Borbély’s inauguration into English is a...

THE DISPOSSESSED

In his first and only novel, Borbély describes growing up in a remote village in northeastern Hungary.

Borbély, an acclaimed poet and writer in his native Hungary, once promised his father that he would never write about his dismal childhood. His father died in 2006. In 2013, Borbély published a brilliant, and biting, depiction of his destitute boyhood in a remote Hungarian village. The novel was highly acclaimed, and now, in his debut in English translation, Borbély’s work promises to be a major gift to English readers. His is a massive talent, with a dark taste for the absurd placing him squarely in the company of Gogol, Kafka, and, more recently, Bohumil Hrabal and the filmmaker Emir Kusturica. In the 1960s and '70s, Communist years, Borbély’s family was ostracized because of his mother’s landowning ancestors and rumors of his father’s illegitimacy. They were desperately poor. From a young boy’s perspective, Borbély describes his father’s chronic unemployment, his mother’s ongoing attempts to fling herself down into the well. The boy, his older sister, and their baby brother sometimes went hungry. There weren’t enough resources to support unnecessary life, and so, as Borbély writes in one unforgettable passage, “all newborn animals”—including sparrows, mice, and kittens—had to be “exterminated.” Then the boy shifts his gaze. “We should take my little brother someplace, as well,” he tells his mother. When she demurs, he pushes back. “But why was he brought here?” he insists. “There are enough of us already.” In Mulzet’s magnificent translation, Borbély’s prose is caustic and lucent, tart and somehow burnished. He writes in short, staccato phrases that seem bitten off, chewed at the end with an acerbic twist. He has a fantastic wit; he excavates the darkest whimsy from the bleakest of situations. “But the angels sent him to us,” his mother says of his baby brother. His response: “I don’t understand what angels have to do with it.” Borbély died in 2014, but there is a back catalog of poems, essays, and stories yet to appear in English. Here’s hoping Mulzet brings us more before too much time passes.

An exquisite addition to any library of the dark, the bleak, and the absurd, Borbély’s inauguration into English is a magnificent one.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-236408-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

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

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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