A bad book from a good writer who needs a new subject.

THE POSSESSION OF MR. CAVE

A history of grievous family losses transforms a mild-mannered antiques dealer into a judgmental “fascist” (his daughter’s word) in British author Haig’s latest novel.

Haig (The Labrador Pact, 2008, etc.) writes books in which ordeals endured by endangered families are suggestively linked to circumstantially similar literary works (e.g., Shakespeare’s—as in his novel The Dead Fathers Club’s reworking of Hamlet). Thus, protagonist Terence Cave’s determination to protect his surviving loved one—his musically gifted daughter Bryony—channels Keats’s language and Beethoven’s harmonies, in a disturbed orchestration of overprotectiveness and paranoia. For the death of Bryony’s “slow” twin brother Reuben, resulting from vicious neighborhood bullying, has followed the suicide of her paternal grandmother and the murder of Bryony’s own mother (during a botched robbery). In a book-length “letter” written in Terence’s imagination to the increasingly indignant Bryony, Terence attempts to explain fears that drive him to burden her with draconian rules, harass and interrogate her friends and, finally, confront her “unworthy” boyfriend Denny—who embodies a climactic surprise all too easily foreseen by the reader. Haig labors mightily, overextending what’s essentially an idea for a short story, adhering to Terence’s obsessed viewpoint, as the character’s delusive imaginings lead to outright hallucinations and a final violent act. The ironies are predictable and jejune, the banalities and truisms (e.g., humans’ need to learn the passive “wisdom” of animals) legion, the whole mishmash embarrassingly contrived and over the top. Only the superb opening scene—that of Reuben’s pathetic death—carries genuine conviction. It raises expectations that the rest of the book utterly fails to satisfy.

A bad book from a good writer who needs a new subject.

Pub Date: March 23, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02056-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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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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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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