Without pyrotechnics, Petterson brings his characters and working-class Norway vividly, even passionately, to life; days...

I REFUSE

Norwegian Petterson (It’s Fine By Me, 2012, etc.) shows his considerable gift for exploring the darker crevices of boyhood in this elegiac story of two long-estranged friends whose lives have not turned out as they expected.

In 2006, Tommy and Jim speak briefly on a bridge in Oslo where Jim is fishing and Tommy is driving his Mercedes. While Tommy is a successful if lonely businessman, emotionally fragile Jim has not worked at his job at the Oslo Libraries for a year, and his sick leave has run out. More than 30 years ago, the two were best friends growing up together in the working-class neighborhood of Mørk. Back then, Jim—raised by his devoted single mom, who taught religion and instilled in Jim the belief that “you had to make yourself worthy”—seemed headed for success. Tommy’s childhood was a disaster—after his mother’s disappearance in 1964, his father abused his three younger sisters until 13-year-old Tommy attacked him with a bat and his father disappeared, too. The children were sent to different homes. While living with kindly neighbor Jonsen, Tommy tried to maintain a bond with his sister Siri, although her heavily Christian new parents considered him a bad influence. In adolescence, Siri was no longer close to Tommy but began a romance with Jim when he started attending her high school. The triangular connections became complicated, but all three had a sweetness and innocence about them. Then one afternoon Jim had a moment of what he considered cowardice while skating with Tommy and never forgave himself. Going about what turns into a trying day for each in 2006, both middle-aged men are drawn back to memories of that earlier time and each other, exposing how the scars from their (and Siri’s) pasts formed them. Don’t expect redemption here, but hope for connection.

Without pyrotechnics, Petterson brings his characters and working-class Norway vividly, even passionately, to life; days after they finish the novel, readers may still have dreams of ice cracking.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55597-699-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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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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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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