Delicate handling of deep themes—loss, missed connections, meaninglessness—gives the novel an emotional charge greater than...

ELÉCTRICO W

A French journalist and a Portuguese photographer find they have some uncomfortable things in common in this latest from Le Tellier (Enough About Love, 2011, etc.).

Narrator Vincent Balmer has relocated to Lisbon to escape from his fruitless love for flirtatious, withholding Irene. When he agrees to cover the trial of serial killer Ricardo Pinheiro with photographer Antonio Flores, he doesn’t know that Antonio is having an affair with Irene. When he finds out, he determines to get his revenge by tracking down Duck, the childhood sweetheart Antonio still pines for; then Irene will know what it feels like to be rejected. This mildly distasteful premise is mostly an excuse for Le Tellier’s atmospheric, leisurely narrative of nine days in 1985, which mingles Vincent’s search for Duck, the first day of the trial and his wanderings through Lisbon with Antonio and Irene—who arrives from Paris and is not pleased to find Vincent supposedly involved with someone else. He’s faking this romance, aided by a woman he meets at a cafe. Another very young woman met by chance gives Antonio a taste of the hopeless love Irene and Vincent have both experienced, providing more satisfactory payback than Vincent’s eventual discovery of Duck. Unfolding memories give readers a better understanding of and sympathy for Vincent, who has endured a difficult childhood, his mother’s death and a fraught relationship with his father, who recently committed suicide. Intermittent excerpts from Portuguese writer Jaime Montestrela’s Contos acquosas, which Vincent is translating, amplify the novel’s tone of existential unease, which is also buttressed by glancing references to the Salazar dictatorship and Vincent’s memories of a journey to the Okavango Delta in Africa, “a metaphor for unfinished business, for adversity, for an unreachable goal.” It makes an allusive kind of sense that he names his novel after a Lisbon tramline that no longer exists.

Delicate handling of deep themes—loss, missed connections, meaninglessness—gives the novel an emotional charge greater than its low-key particulars and pacing.

Pub Date: June 18, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59051-533-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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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