Nors is an exquisitely precise writer, and in rendering her heroine’s small disruptions and, yes, victories, she is writing...

MIRROR, SHOULDER, SIGNAL

In this tautly observed novel, Nors reveals a middle-age woman on the verge of disappearance and discovery.

Danish writer Nors is a miniaturist; her book So Much for That Winter (2016) gathers two novellas that read like collections of epigrams, while her story collection Karate Chop (2014) brings together 15 microfictions, each imbued with an uneasy sense of loss. In this, the first of her four novels to be translated into English, she follows up on and enlarges these concerns. The story of Sonja, 40-something, a translator of Swedish crime fiction, the book unfolds in and around Copenhagen, but its true territory is the inner life. Sonja is stuck: bored of translation work, envious (but not really) of her sister who appears to have it all. She is learning to drive—the title is a reference to her instructor’s admonition about changing lanes in traffic—and she also suffers from positional vertigo, an inherited condition in which she can fall prey to dizziness simply by the wrong movement of her head. In part, all this is metaphor, a way to frame Sonja’s displacement. She is anonymous, much like the women Nors describes in her essay “On the Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women” (2016). At the same time, Nors is after something bigger than mere symbol; she is trying to excavate the pattern of a life. “But it doesn’t matter,” Sonja says late in the novel. “I manage, of course.” The line, in many ways, is key to the novel, which makes vivid drama out of the most mundane events. Not much happens here—some awkward interactions with her driving teachers, a couple of massages, some letters and phone calls with her family—but not much has to, for the drama Nors excavates is the most human one. What does it mean to keep on living? What does it mean to make a place for oneself, no matter how small or conditional? “A person who has her hand on the back of your heart,” Sonja reminds us, “shouldn’t be unsure.”

Nors is an exquisitely precise writer, and in rendering her heroine’s small disruptions and, yes, victories, she is writing for, and of, every one of us.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-808-2

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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