Some purists may object to the small liberties Headley has taken with the text, but her version is altogether brilliant.

BEOWULF

A NEW TRANSLATION

An iconic work of early English literature comes in for up-to-the-minute treatment.

In her novel The Mere Wife (2018), Headley imagined Grendel’s mother as a PTSD–haunted Iraq War veteran guarding her son from the encroachment of suburban civilization on their wilderness home. Telling that tale, she recounts in the introduction here, put her closely in touch with the original and with a woman who “had a ferocious look and seemed to give precisely zero fucks.” From the very opening of the poem—“Bro!” in the place of the sturdy Saxon exhortation “Hwaet”—you know this isn’t your grandpappy’s version of Beowulf. Headley continues, putting her own spin on the hemistiches and internal rhymes of the original: “Tell me we still know how to talk about kings! In the old days, / everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only / stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.” Grendel, she has it, was a “woe-walker, / unlucky, fucked by Fate.” The language may keep Headley’s version from high school curricula, but the sentiment is exactly right: Grendel is an outcast and monster through no fault of his own while the men who array themselves against him are concerned with attaining fame and keeping the reputation of being good for eternity while having a nice flagon of mead at the end of a day of hacking away. Headley’s language and pacing keep perfect track with the events she describes, as when a fire-breathing dragon visits the warriors’ hall: “Soon Beowulf received a blistering missive. / His own hall, his heart-home, had combusted. / He’d been ghost-throned by the skyborn gold-holder.” “Ghost-throned” is a wonderful neologism, and if phrases like “Everybody’s gotta learn sometime” and “His guys tried” seem a touch too contemporary, they give the 3,182-line text immediacy without surrendering a bit of its grand poetry.

Some purists may object to the small liberties Headley has taken with the text, but her version is altogether brilliant.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-11003-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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

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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

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