A wildly inventive and moving exploration of the human mind under conditions of duress.

MURMUR

A challenging literary experiment about the shifting nature of human consciousness, inspired by English computer scientist Alan Turing, who was persecuted for being gay.

British novelist and poet Eaves (The Absent Therapist, 2014, etc.) tells the story of Alec Pryor, an English mathematician modeled after Turing, in three sections. Part of a top-secret effort to decrypt coded German communications during World War II, Pryor is a prominent member of scientific and government circles after the war. He is also, however, a gay man at a time when homosexuality is a punishable offense under British law. Searching for intimacy under these conditions, he wanders a fairground and meets a man named Cyril, with whom he strikes up a sexual relationship. This is his downfall: A friend of Cyril's breaks into Pryor's apartment, and when he reports the crime, he's taken in for suspicion of homosexual acts. Soon, he finds himself under the control of Dr. Stallbrook, an analyst who oversees the chemical castration to which he's been sentenced. Stallbrook encourages Pryor to write, and these "notes to pass the time" become the hallucinatory dreamscapes of the book's second and third parts. As the synthetic estrogen does its work, Pryor's consciousness ranges back and forth in time, from Britain's hunter-gatherer past to a future in which machines replace human consciousness. Watching himself as if from afar, he comes to terms with the loss of control he suffers as his body changes. All the while, he is haunted by the memory of a figure from his schoolboy days, Christopher Molyneaux, a fellow student Pryor loved but whose friendship gradually faded. "I think he was told no good could come of our friendship, because of what I am, or rather, because of what, then, it was suggested I would become." In careful prose, Eaves prods at the limits of human consciousness as Pryor comes to grips with the changes wracking his body. All the while Eaves asks important questions about our ability to communicate our innermost thoughts to those we love. "What would a conversation be with instant, mutual apprehension of its themes?" Pryor wonders. Eaves has delivered a gripping narrative experiment that gives us a sense of what such an intimacy would be like.

A wildly inventive and moving exploration of the human mind under conditions of duress.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-942658-64-1

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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