The struggles of a young clergywoman make for a less than compelling story.

THE PASTOR

A pastor wrestles with her faith in a small Norwegian town.

After the suicide of her friend Kristiane, a puppeteer, Liv heads north from a seminary in Germany where she’s been pursuing a doctorate in theology to become the assistant to the parish priest in a remote Norwegian town. A year later, she still struggles to process her feelings about Kristiane’s death. Triggered by the suicide of the 19-year-old daughter of one of her parishioners, Liv’s thoughts lurch awkwardly in an undiluted stream of consciousness between the present day and memories of Kristiane—someone she describes repeatedly, and enigmatically, as “weightless”—reviving her regret over an argument she feels somehow may have contributed to her friend’s decision to take her life. To add to Liv’s anguish over what she confesses is “such a tangle, a hopeless endeavor to unravel an impossible tangle,” she frequently digresses to the subject of her doctoral research—the rebellion in 1852 of the Indigenous Sami against Norwegian settlers and their state church that “converged in a single point, a single channel, which was the language of Christianity.” The uprising occurred in a town several hours from Liv’s church, and she has an opportunity to visit the site when she attends a synod conference there. At that meeting, Liv, the only female priest in attendance, is confronted with the undisguised sexism of some of her colleagues, but that intriguing plot turn comes late in the novel and is abandoned quickly when another suicide attempt in Liv’s parish compels her to rush home. Ørstavik successfully evokes the atmosphere of life in rural Norway in winter, but the fact that her protagonist feels equally chilly and distant robs the story of much of its emotional force.

The struggles of a young clergywoman make for a less than compelling story.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-953861-08-5

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 35

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

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

Did you like this book?

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

more