THE NEW WATER

A claustrophobic and riveting psychological novel, the first English translation of a prizewinning Norwegian writer whose terse fiction has—perhaps inevitably—been compared to that of his great countryman Knut Hamsun. First published in 1987, this is the story of Jon, a withdrawn and apparently feebleminded young man who lives alone with his divorced elder sister on an island not far from the Danish mainland. Jon works first for a parsimonious neighbor and then for a company building an aqueduct and piping water to his embryonic ``community.'' But Jon's real life is enigmatically and disturbingly interior (``He was a sick man who lived in a sheltered world, among people who said they desired his best''). Jacobsen skillfully juxtaposes the secrecy and dissembling that are Jon's only defenses against the lies he tells himself and the ``visions'' he experiences. We're not sure until the final pages whether the disappeared Lisa, the companion of Jon's youth whom he's never stopped loving, did, as was reported, go to Copenhagen to become a ballet dancer—or whether Jon's insistence that he saw two men dumping a body into a lake explains her long absence. The possibilities are teasingly explored in a long, fascinating denouement in which police inspector Hermansen—a Javert to Jon's Valjean—patiently stirs up long-buried memories, and puts into orderly narrative form information previously given us only as fragments filtered through Jon's imperfect understanding. It's beautifully done, and the drama is significantly heightened by an accomplished translation that effectively sustains a powerful mood of uncertainty and hesitancy—the characteristics that happen to be the essential ingredients of its protagonist's inchoate personality. A superbly constructed thriller, and a memorable characterization of a man who scarcely knows himself whether he's hero, villain, or victim.

Pub Date: June 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-9645238-1-7

Page Count: 189

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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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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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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