From the first page, this novel grips us with an acutely sensitive rendition of a mentally handicapped man's inner world.

THE BIRDS

The point of view of a mentally simple man provides a poignant perspective on day-to-day events in this novel from Norway.

Vesaas (1897-1970; The Ice Palace, 1963) originally published this novel in 1957, but it has a freshness that can only be due to its timeless subject matter. Mattis, 37, lives with his sister Hege, 40, in a cottage in the woods. Gently mocked by villagers (who call him Simple Simon), Mattis clings to what sense he can make of things, often attributing miraculous significance to small events such as the flight of a woodcock over his house. He eagerly tells anyone who will listen, most often Hege, about the small moments that have filled him with overwhelming feeling. Life is full of drama for him, but we see through his eyes (and clever, subtle narration) that his sister is miserable, feeling trapped in drudgery. She knits sweaters for a living and soon asks Mattis to go look for some work. Thus begin several adventures for Mattis, which include becoming an impromptu ferryman for two attractive girls who are unexpectedly gentle with him, allowing him to carry them to shore in town so he can impress the villagers. Each turn of events prompts an elaborate sense of wonder and optimism in Mattis. The tension between him and the unhappy Hege works well as a form of suspense, as Mattis fears she will get fed up and leave him, and the reader wonders the same thing. But just as their duo seems stalled in unhappy stasis, Mattis happens to ferry home a lumberjack, Jørgen, who becomes Hege's love interest. Some of the novel's exquisite control slackens in the last section, as Jørgen's actions are surprisingly predictable (however contradictory that seems), and Hege's rescue from loneliness has a “too good to be true” feeling. Nothing is truly smooth, however, which is a sadness built into every page of a story about a character like Mattis. And despite lulls, the novel is compelling enough to pull you along to the very end.

From the first page, this novel grips us with an acutely sensitive rendition of a mentally handicapped man's inner world.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-914-67120-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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