An elegant and nuanced meditation on family, class, perception, illness, and death.

ANTONIO

Accreting through cumulative and sometimes contradictory accounts of a crumbling São Paulo dynasty, this philosophical novel examines what people present and what they conceal, even from themselves.

On the cusp of becoming the father of a baby boy to be named Antonio, Benjamim, a graphic designer from Rio de Janeiro, has traveled to his own father's hometown of São Paulo. Although we have neither dialogue from nor, for the vast majority of the book, even a glimpse of this central character, we gradually glean through the single-sided conversations directed at him by his three interlocutors—his father's friend Raul, his grandparents' friend Haroldo, and his paternal grandmother, Isabel, who is dying alone in a hospital room—that he is seeking answers about his father, Teodoro. To what purpose, precisely, is never revealed, but as the youngest and most promising child of a prominent and once-affluent family, Teo fled São Paulo for the countryside, not just "to come into contact with the earth of our land," Haroldo theorizes. "He wanted to become it." Here he suffered from a long, untreated mental illness and eventual breakdown that led to his death when Benjamim was still a boy. The tale of his father's self-exile from the city of his birth unfolds as Benjamim learns who Teo was as a son and a man apart from the parent he knew. In gradually accumulating details, he is told of the death of his grandfather Xavier's first child and Benjamim's namesake, Xavier's subsequent collapse and commitment to a "rest home," and how the pseudo-Oedipal story of his own existence evolved from this tragedy. By chapters, the book cycles among Raul's, Haroldo's, and Isabel's recollections on the major events in Teo's and Xavier's lives and the broader family history, a careful study of the unreliability of witness filtered through memory, time, and one's own perception and self-regard. Turning the focus among these three perspectives by minute degrees, Bracher and translator Morris render a sophisticated, multifaceted portrait of a family that endures nevertheless through its decline and the prolonged fallout from the choices they made—or that were left them—through the lives they lived.

An elegant and nuanced meditation on family, class, perception, illness, and death.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2738-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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