An abstracted and loose minor work that only glancingly addresses the author's favorite themes.

THE SPIRIT OF SCIENCE FICTION

Two young writers attempt to crack Mexico City’s literary culture with whatever it takes, including earnest letters to science-fiction icons.

This brief, curious, posthumous novel by Bolaño (1953-2003; 2666, etc.), written circa 1984, can be read as a kind of rehearsal for his 2007 breakthrough, The Savage Detectives. Like that novel, this one features a pair of writers, Jan and Remo, who are determined to comprehend the literary culture they’re so passionate about. Jan, an alter ego for Bolaño himself, is more introverted, translating poems and writing fan letters to the likes of Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr., and others. Remo, by contrast, engages with a writing workshop, though he seems to spend less time writing then he does pursuing relationships and investigating the curious explosion of literary magazines in the city from 32 titles to 661. Whether they resolve the mysteries of either literary production or women is beside the point, though; the novel is designed more as a series of set pieces from the pair’s lives than a clear narrative, which leaves room for plenty of riffs about writers hungry to make names for themselves. (“In London, teenagers play for a few months at being pop stars,” one scholar tells Remo. “Here, as you might expect, we seek out the cheapest and most pathetic drug or hobby: poetry, poetry magazines; that’s just the way it is.”) The main storyline is interspersed with dialogue from an interview with an unnamed award-winning writer, rambling on tomes about potato farming and science-fiction plots. It’s unclear if Bolaño didn’t finish this novel or deemed it unfit for publication, but either way it’s an unshaped apprentice work, hinting at his particular brilliance—emotional expansiveness, dry humor, passion for the intersection of words and life—but only sketching it out.

An abstracted and loose minor work that only glancingly addresses the author's favorite themes.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2285-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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