A strange, amusing novel by a writer well worth investigating.


A man confronts the encroachment of urban noise on his home and life in this novel by Argentinian writer Di Benedetto (1922-1986) originally published in 1964.

The unnamed narrator is 25, lives with his mother, and works as an assistant manager at an unspecified business in an unnamed city. A few words into the novel, the problem appears: “I open the gate and meet the noise.” It’s the sound of a bus idling, and it “punctures our life with shocks.” At work, a transistor radio plays on his boss’s desk. Back home, a new shock emerges as an industrial shed is built nearby for an auto-repair shop. He moves to a place where it seems noise is unlikely, to no avail. The nemesis grows to comic proportions: a dance hall with six vocalists and three orchestras. When he isn’t suffering and complaining—“noise stalks and harries me”—the narrator ponders writing a “book about helplessness” called The Roof or perhaps a crime novel. He admires a young woman in the neighborhood but marries another. He has philosophical chats with his friend Besarión, who goes off on a “bewildered pilgrimage” in search of an unspecified sign or signal, which might be a fly that lands on his neck in Rome. This is the second novel of a trilogy, following Zama (1956). His hero’s existential predicament might recall Kafka or Dostoevsky, albeit on a lighter scale. It develops in spare, careful prose and sustains a thread of dry humor in the narrator’s self-importance, especially in the pomposity and awkwardness of his expressions (shades of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly), suggesting the fledgling writer trying his tiny wings. Allen’s translation renders these nicely, such as “Day has developed in my windowpanes” or “It feels as if someone is vociferating through a megaphone and hurling cascades of screws and bolts at me.”

A strange, amusing novel by a writer well worth investigating.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-68137-562-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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

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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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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.


A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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