“Kafkaesque” is an overused term, but it’s an apt one for this dark tale of fear and injustice.

RED PILL

A writer on retreat in Germany is unwittingly drawn into the world of alt-right ideologues.

Much like Kunzru’s excellent White Tears (2017), this novel features a lead character stumbling into confrontations about race and society he’s ill-prepared to handle. The unnamed narrator is a Brooklyn creative-writing teacher and essayist struggling to write a book on the self in literature. A break (both emotional and careerwise) seems to arrive when, in early 2016, he begins a three-month fellowship at the Deuter Center in Wannsee, Germany. But almost immediately the good vibes turn bad: A blowhard scholar explodes the writer’s thesis, everybody’s online activities are creepily scrutinized, and what’s with that staffer wearing a Pepe the Frog pin? (Adding to the queasy unease, it's hard to ignore that Wannsee hosted the conference where the Nazis finalized plans to implement the Final Solution.) Exasperated and demoralized, the narrator retreats into binge-watching a cop show whose leads are merciless with perps and who spew black-hearted monologues on humanity’s fate. In time, the narrator crosses paths with the show’s creator, Anton, a charismatic but smugly racist man. The increasingly paranoid narrator tries to get to the bottom of Anton’s ideology; meanwhile, the U.S. presidential election approaches. Plotwise, the novel is clunky, slow to establish the narrator’s character and awkwardly introducing Anton into the narrative; a lengthy section featuring a Deuter Center housecleaner’s experience being manipulated by the Stasi is razor-sharp in itself but effectively a sidebar to the main story. Yet as an allegory about how well-meaning liberals have been blindsided by pseudo-intellectual bigots with substantial platforms, it’s bleak but compelling. Our intellectual freedom, Kunzru writes, “is shrinking, its scope reduced by technologies of prediction and control, by social media’s sinister injunction to share.” This novel, in all its disorder, represents some worthy and spirited push back.

“Kafkaesque” is an overused term, but it’s an apt one for this dark tale of fear and injustice.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-49371-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more