Not one of Hegi’s best, but this thoughtful writer’s work always merits attention.

THE PATRON SAINT OF PREGNANT GIRLS

A folklore-inflected tale focused on three mothers, a highly unusual group of nuns, and a chorus of Old Women who comment on everything.

The main narrative unfolds in the wake of a freak wave that breaks over the beach on the island of Nordstrand in August 1878, sweeping away Lotte and Martin Jansen’s three oldest children. Devastated and even unable to love their remaining baby, Wilhelm, Martin literally runs away with the circus, in this case the Ludwig Zirkus, a traveling band of free spirits in the harshly judgmental society of 19th-century Germany. Among its denizens is Sabine, abandoned by her husband and fiercely protective of her developmentally disabled daughter. Another Nordstrand refuge for misfits is the St. Margaret Home, founded by art-loving Sister Hildegunde, where nuns care for unmarried pregnant girls with love and without judgment. Grieving for her newborn given up for adoption, 11-year-old Tilli becomes Wilhelm’s wet nurse while he and his near-catatonic mother are temporarily staying with the nuns, and her devotion becomes an issue with Lotte. That’s a lot of plot to launch a novel, particularly since Hegi intersperses Sabine’s and St. Margaret’s backstories in chapters dating back to 1842. The Old Women’s interjections sometimes seem unnecessary, though it’s a pleasure to hear of them giving a brutal husband his comeuppance. Hegi’s contrast between the censorious, sanctimonious pillars of society and the kind, tolerant nuns and circus folk is a bit pat, particularly in both groups’ anachronistic acceptance of open homosexuality. The vaguely magical realist elements aren’t a strong point for this author, who has excelled in probing the moral complexities of both personal and political relations in such previous works as Children and Fire (2011) and Salt Dancers (1995). Still, her characters in this less satisfying book are still full-bodied, and their various conflicts lead to tender final resolutions for the three protagonists.

Not one of Hegi’s best, but this thoughtful writer’s work always merits attention.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-15682-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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