Haddon deserves credit for taking chances even if not all of them pay off.

THE PIER FALLS

AND OTHER STORIES

Time and connection are recurring themes in this story collection from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003, etc.).

Since he made his debut with the popular Curious Incident, a murder mystery of sorts with an autistic young man as protagonist, Haddon has committed himself to a singularly twisted literary progression. Each book finds the British writer in a different place than the previous one had suggested, over a career that has encompassed children’s books and poetry as well as scripts for radio and television. Thus, it’s no surprise that his first story collection is all over the map in both form and quality. The two opening stories are among the best, with neither “The Pier Falls” nor “The Island” having anything as conventional as a named character. The former provides a tick-tock account of a tragedy, as the casualties accumulate and two survivors forge an unlikely connection, and then shifts into a longer-term perspective on the aftereffects. The latter is one of the stories in the collection where dreams blur with fairy tales, as a princess is abducted and abandoned by a man she assumes is her betrothed. “She realised that there were many worlds beyond this world and that her own was very small indeed,” he writes in a reflection that could apply to other stories as well. Yet some of the others are both more conventional and more contrived, as “Bunny” features another unlikely connection between a recluse and a woman who had been abused by her parents, “Wodwo” finds a holiday family dinner with predictable tensions interrupted by an unexpected stranger with surprising consequences, and the closing “The Weir” finds two other strangers coming together in unlikely circumstances and forging a bond, as “change gets harder,” with “the world shifting too fast in ways he doesn’t understand.”

Haddon deserves credit for taking chances even if not all of them pay off.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-54075-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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