A quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.

LITTLE

This historical novel explores Revolutionary Paris through the fictionalized eyes of the orphan who grew up to become Madame Tussaud.

Born in a little Alsatian village in 1761, Anne Marie Grosholtz—called Marie—inherits her mother’s large Roman nose, her father’s large, upturned chin, and little else. Marie’s widowed mother dies soon after taking a job as housekeeper to Doctor Curtius, a physician who makes wax models of organs and body parts. Little Marie moves to Paris with Curtius, where he opens a wax museum and trains her as his assistant. There, they sculpt first the heads of philosophes, then famous murderers, and eventually victims of the guillotine. (Those make for much more portable models, being detached from their bodies.) Marie’s fortunes rise and fall with the politics of the era: She becomes an art tutor to Louis XVI’s sister Elisabeth, then spends a stint in the Carmes Prison (where she shares a cell with the future Josephine Bonaparte). Carey (Lungdon, 2015, etc.) channels the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and the Brothers Grimm to tell Marie’s tale, populating it with grotesques and horrors worthy of Madame Tussaud’s celebrated wax museum. Little drawings punctuate the text, like Boz’s cartoons in Dickens’ books; Carey’s rumination on wax recalls Dickens’ on dust. In Carey’s hands, life blurs with death, nature with artifice; his objects seem as animated as people while his people can appear as fragile and impotent as objects. Dolls, houses, carts, furniture, tailors’ dummies, and, of course, waxworks have human feelings: “I had never before considered that carriage clocks could be disapproving, nor had I supposed a candelabra might resent lighting me. I had never stepped upon a carpet that did not wish me there, nor felt the enmity of a marble mantelpiece. Nor had I come upon a gold-braided stool whose fat little feet seemed aimed at my ankles. Not before I entered this room.” Curtius “seemed made of rods, of broom handles, of great lengths.” This artful anthropomorphism (and its opposite) perfectly suits a novel about that most lifelike medium of sculpture, wax—and its most famous modeler.

A quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53432-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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