Knut Hamsun remains the king of Nordic gloom, but Solstad gives him a run for the money in a story at once traditional and...

T SINGER

Morose but effective character study by esteemed Norwegian novelist Solstad (Professor Anderson’s Night, 2011, etc.).

Singer isn’t much to behold. He can’t dance, can’t sing, hasn’t gotten very far along in his aspirations to be a writer. What’s a bookish failure to do, having exhausted the possibilities of his job as a “punctual and conscientious sales clerk in the state liquor store”? Go to library school, from which Singer emerges at the age of 34 with a job in a small city in the mountainous Telemark district. He settles into a “simple, well-ordered life” that is soon disrupted by the attentions of ceramicist Merete Sæthre, who presumably settles for him in turn because there’s not a huge smorgasbord of romantic possibilities for a single mother with a 2-year-old child. Solstad breaks the fourth wall to tell us that he’s not going to tell us much more about Merete: “She is not the main character in this novel; it’s doubtful that she could have been the main character in any novel of a certain quality.” Thus, when her discontent with Singer mounts to the point of fracture, it’s easy enough, one supposes, to dispose of her, leaving Singer to tend to the young daughter who’s his in the eyes of the law only. Singer is, let us say, not adept at coping; as Solstad writes, it’s hard to imagine that he, too, “can be the main character in any novel at all, regardless of quality.” Still, after he summons up an imaginary friend upon whom to spill his grief, he manages to rise to the occasion, sort of. Suffice it to say that, as the years pass, single fatherhood doesn’t do much to improve his mood.

Knut Hamsun remains the king of Nordic gloom, but Solstad gives him a run for the money in a story at once traditional and postmodern.

Pub Date: May 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2596-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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