Again, as in many of his recent short stories, Trevor devotes this immaculate new novel to the insidious legacy, the spreading stain, of random acts of violence—specifically those rooted in Ireland's "continuing battleground." The most richly kind and gentle of people—like the mill-owning Quintons of Kilneagh—can become the fools of fortune in the wake of violence, as recalled by William Quinton in the novel's first section. William remembers himself at age eight in 1918, tutored by Father Kilgarriff, a mysteriously unfrocked priest, in a "scarlet dining room fragrant with the scent of roses." He recalls his father, a "bulky, lazy-looking" man who favors a teddy-bear dressing gown and walking down a silent avenue of beech trees trailed by his dogs; pretty English-born Mother, who wields untroubled authority; two small sisters; and, in the "orchard wing" of Kilneagh, Aunt Fitzeustace of "notable jaw" and timid Aunt Pansy. But this rose-scented idyll will be blasted apart after the Quintons, foes of injustice, welcome revolutionist Michael Collins at Kilneagh: the children are thrilled and horrified by the obscene execution of Doyle, one of Father's mill workers, who has been spying for the Black and Tans. And then an English spy named Rudkin, Doyle's contact, will wave a friendly greeting on a street comer to Father and Willie—the day before Father's body smoulders on the stairs of Kilneagh, the two screaming little girls dying in flames. . . while bullets splatter and the dogs' barking abruptly stops. In the years that follow, while Mother sinks into grieving alcoholism, Willie finds cruelty and hatred at school but finds love with his English cousin Marianne. And though, after Mother dies of self-inflicted violence, Willie fulfills a vengeful legacy and leaves Ireland, Marianne will bear his child: Imelda, who'll be raised, fatherless, in the ruins of Kineagh, sealed into the bitter past by Marianne and those aging wraiths of the orchard wing. So, even decades later, the screams of burning children will still sound over the scent of roses—in the mind of mad, middle-aged Imelda. Like the story "Matilda's England" in Lovers of Their Time: a masterly tracing of the shadow of violence through time, muted but never canceled out by love—in a restrained, elegant, austerely affecting family-tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1983

ISBN: 0143039628

Page Count: 207

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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