An unconvincing account of willed self-transformation.



A 35-year-old Norwegian publicist faces an existential crisis in Hjorth's quirky, unsettling novel.

Hjorth hangs her plot on a footnote in Norwegian history. In 2011, the European Union demanded that the Norwegian postal service allow competition in the delivery of letters weighing less than 50 grams, and the postal union fought back. The novel imagines narrator Ellinor as part of a ragtag three-person publicity company that is reduced by a third when Dag, who is supposed to be handling the postal union's account, suddenly quits, sails away, and commits suicide. Ellinor, who often can't remember what she did a day or an hour ago and who yearns “for a breakdown. To surrender to it and be carted off to a quiet and balmy place far away,” at first feels that the boredom of the account may push her over the edge, but then she commits to allowing the passion and enthusiasm of the union members to give her own life meaning. Unfortunately for the reader, unhinged Ellinor is far more fascinating than the Ellinor who exults in the intricacies of letter delivery and the details of converting people to the union cause. Just when it seems that Ellinor may be able to lift herself out of the depths of trying to make sense of her old diaries and focus on the people around her, including a newly pregnant sister and a newish boyfriend with a son from an earlier relationship, she becomes obsessed with the postal union. Her friends and family, insufficiently developed as characters, fall to the narrative wayside, and the reader is left trying to work up some interest in arcane matters. Though it's tempting to suspect that Hjorth is taking a nuanced view of Ellinor's obsession, ultimately it seems that we're supposed to conclude that it's straightforwardly noble, and it grows increasingly hard to care about either Ellinor or her redemption.

An unconvincing account of willed self-transformation.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-78873-313-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

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An interrupted family vacation, unexpected visitors, a mysterious blackout—something is happening, and the world may never be the same.

On a reassuringly sunny summer day, Amanda, an account director in advertising; Clay, a college professor; and their children, Archie, 15, and Rose, 13, make their way from Brooklyn to a luxury home (swimming pool! hot tub! marble countertops!) in a remote area of Long Island they’ve rented for a family vacation. Shortly after they arrive, however, the family’s holiday is interrupted by a knock on the door: The house’s owners, a prosperous older Black couple—George Washington and his wife, Ruth—have shown up unannounced because New York City has been plunged into a blackout and their Park Avenue high-rise apartment didn’t feel safe. Soon it becomes clear that the blackout is a symptom (or is it a cause?) of something larger—and nothing is safe. Has there been a nuclear or climate disaster, a war, a terrorist act, a bomb? Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation: Why do hundreds of deer show up in the house’s well-maintained backyard or a flock of bright-pink flamingos frolic in the family pool and then fly away? What is the noise, loud enough to crack glass, that comes, without warning, once and then, later, repeatedly? Is it safer to go back to the city, to civilization, or to remain away, in a world apart? As they search for answers and adjust to what increasingly appears to be a confusing new normal, the two families—one Black, one White; one older, one younger; one rich, one middle-class—are compelled to find community amid calamity, to come together to support each other and survive. As he did in his previous novels, Rich and Pretty (2016) and That Kind of Mother (2018), Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time.

Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266763-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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