Deliberate and carefully built, this novel rarely pulls off true theater’s magic of transforming glitter confetti into fairy...

HAG-SEED

Despite its title, this novelization of The Tempest explores the perspective not of Caliban, the enslaved witch’s son, but of Prospero, his magician master.

The latest in The Hogarth Press’ series of Shakespeare retellings is Atwood's (The Heart Goes Last, 2015, etc.) take on tyranny, betrayal, and art. In dystopias such as The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), the feminist master of literary science fiction explored the fate of the oppressed, but here she focuses instead on the power of an artist to reimagine his fate. Her Prospero, the actor/impresario Felix Phillips, has spent too many years ignoring office politics so he can concentrate on “the things that really mattered, such as his perceptive script notes and his cutting-edge lighting schemes and the exact timing of the showers of glitter confetti of which he has made such genius use.” As a result, he’s been ousted as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his scheming second-in-command, Tony Price (Antonio), and the Chair of the Board, Lonnie Gordon (Gonzalo). Fleeing the scene of his betrayal, Felix changes his name to Mr. Duke and finds refuge in the Literacy Through Literature program at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute, a job he agrees to take only if he’s allowed to direct the inmates in Shakespeare plays. There he plots revenge, which unfolds when Tony, now Minister of Heritage in the Canadian government, along with Lonnie and assorted other dignitaries, makes a photo-op visit to see Felix’s production of—what else?—The Tempest. Once Felix has his enemies isolated in his dominion, he directs his sprites—the inmate actors—to bewitch, drug, and humiliate them, exposing their treachery. The plot’s self-referential layers recall Prospero’s famous “air, thin air” speech about actors. But despite this clever construction and a few genuinely moving moments involving Felix’s dead daughter, Miranda, who died of meningitis as a toddler and whose spirit hovers through the story Ariel-fashion, the bulk of the novel can feel like spending some 300 pages in a high school English class. The inmate-actors seem more like puppets than people; oddly, the most forgettable is the eponymous Caliban-counterpart.

Deliberate and carefully built, this novel rarely pulls off true theater’s magic of transforming glitter confetti into fairy dust.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8041-4129-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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