An intriguing work whose ambition and richness should, for many readers, overcome some flaws.

A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM

This challenging, time-traveling epic looks at a family’s travails in different eras and locales around the world.

With his 12th novel for adults, Irish writer Boyne tracks one family, more or less, through two millennia and over much of the globe. Gird your loins: This is busy and potentially confusing stuff, teeming with treachery, flaying, famous figures, and “the marriage act.” As the book begins, in Palestine,  1 C.E., the unnamed male narrator’s father, a Roman soldier, heads off to slaughter innocents at Herod’s behest. Chapter 2’s segue suggests the same narrative, but the family members have different names and live in Turkey,  41 C.E. So it will go, for 50 chapters, as the family members and their crises slowly evolve in ever new settings enriched by historical details and cameos from Attila, Michelangelo, and Lady Macbeth, inter alia. It’s a kind of mashup of the History Channel and soap operas, with the cast facing enslavement, rape, gay bashing, murder, natural disasters, a missing brother, and lost wives. The narrator, along with an artistic bent, has a nasty side, and the latter part of the book will be dominated by his drive for vengeance against a crippled cousin. With Chapter 51, the final crisis arrives in the U.S. on election night 2016. Boyne is a gifted storyteller, but the language here can be stilted, sometimes comically so: “the unexpected engorgement beneath my tunic.” His theme, with all its variations and repetition, boils down to plus ca change: “[T]he things that surround us may change, but our emotions will always remain the same.” Yet an epilogue set in the near future suggests what it might take to get us off our hamster wheel.

An intriguing work whose ambition and richness should, for many readers, overcome some flaws.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-23015-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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

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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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