The author looms again, we infer, in Death with Interruptions, in which a universe of dramatic possibility exfoliates from...

DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS

When Portugal’s José Saramago received the 1998 Nobel Prize, it seemed a fitting climactic acknowledgement of a brilliant career of a stubbornly independent genius who—like Tolstoy and Verdi and Picasso in their times, the late Saul Bellow and the ever underrated Hortense Calisher in our own—had demonstrated unimpaired creative power well into old age.

Saramago’s time to be thrust onto the pantheon had come, it seemed, just as his working life must be nearing its end. His 80th year was approaching, and he had dominated the international scene with an imposing succession of recent masterpieces, crowned by his luminous 1995 novel Blindness, an ingenious Orwellian parable soon to become even better known in acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles’s forthcoming film. But Saramago wasn’t done, and increasingly complex, mischievous, astonishingly inventive books kept coming: a reimagining of Plato’s classic allegory in which a humble artisan’s graceful creations fall victim to punitive government restrictions—until he fights back (The Cave); the voyage of discovery shared by exact physical likenesses, during which both men are challenged, and fulfilled (The Double); a forthright political satire (Seeing, developed from the elements of Blindness), wherein a stiff-necked government is panicked, and given a salutary comeuppance, when a majority of its citizens rise up in protest and refuse to vote in a major election. Much of Saramago’s biography is in his books: his unconventional writing life, begun early, then suspended for several decades while he supported himself as an auto mechanic, teacher, translator and journalist (before the critical success of his 1992 historical romance Baltasar and Blimunda); his avowed Communism and atheism (incarnated in the intricate sociopolitical texture of his finest novel A Year in the Death of Ricardo Reis and his serenely inflammatory The Gospel According to Jesus Christ); and his contempt for stultifying xenophobia and bureaucratic obtuseness (given memorable symbolic form in The Tale of the Unknown Island and All the Names).

The author looms again, we infer, in Death with Interruptions, in which a universe of dramatic possibility exfoliates from its stunning, cunning opening sentence: “The following day, no one died.” The premise’s development occupies the novel’s first half, featuring an unnamed country’s contrivance—with the aid of organized crime—to shuttle inconveniently terminally ill survivors across its borders (where the moribund keep dying, as usual) and handle the complaints of hospitals, morticians and other providers of essential services threatened with financial ruin. Then, in a spectacular tonal and thematic shift, Death herself becomes the protagonist, and the nature of her intimacy with humans becomes the vehicle for a thrilling threnody composed of grief, love (for that which cannot last) and a resigned, muted acceptance of the inevitable. Simultaneously, we may sense we hear the voice of a great artisan who may not have shown us the last of his creations; who instead whispers his promise: Not just yet, there’s more to be told.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-15-101274-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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