Episodic, instructive, occasionally resonant, this is slow, lambent fiction that pays unsentimental tribute to ways of being...

THE WANDERERS

A teenage boy scrapes a living roaming the southern counties of pre–World War I England as a girl he loves drifts toward maturity in surroundings of insulated privilege.

Time passes with slow deliberation in this restless second volume of the West Country trilogy as Pears (The Horseman, 2017, etc.) maintains his commitment to the seasonal and laboring round of a bygone era. The novel picks up where Volume 1 closed, with Leo Sercombe cast out from his childhood home, beaten and bereft. Near starvation, he's rescued by a gypsy family whose adoption develops into a kind of enslavement as Leo works off his debt, initially with chores, later—when reunited with a stunning white colt and using his remarkable equestrian skills—by enhancing the betting in an important race. Meanwhile, Lottie, the 14-year-old daughter of Lord Prideaux, progresses toward adulthood, attending the Derby (an annual British horse race) and developing a passion for biology. Leo’s peregrinations serve as a lens through which Pears presents a succession of impoverished vistas—ruined mines, mean farms—and a minutely observed landscape in which the boy scrounges work, learns some skills, makes a few friends, and is robbed of his magical horse. Weather, wildlife, and rural practices are delivered in detail, from how to butcher a deer to the best response when an owl lands on your wrist, talons first. Avoiding conventional plot developments, pulled along instead by the gravity of survival and impending history, the novel closes with a glimpse of 1915, of war and the irreversible social disruption seeping into this panorama split between Leo’s poverty and Lottie’s luxury.

Episodic, instructive, occasionally resonant, this is slow, lambent fiction that pays unsentimental tribute to ways of being now disappeared from the land.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63557-202-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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