Irish newcomer Gough deftly captures the twins’ youthful awe and giddy excitement during their freshman year, and though the...


A smartly written, pleasantly conceived Irish variation on the girl-goes-to-college-and-comes-of-age story in which small-town twins learn to adore literature and the arts, fall in love, and through loss discover deeper truths.

The narrator, Juliet, considers her twin sister Juno unbelievably beautiful, smart, socially successful, and immeasurably confident, which makes a marked contrast to her own, muddled self-image. Together, they venture to Galway to attend college, and immediately are engrossed in campus life. Juno tackles acting and falls in love with Michael, an uneven, goodhearted student with whom the sisters share a residence. Juliet, meanwhile, is introduced to the edifying joys of literature, and though no specific books are mentioned, the tutorials of David Hennessey and his teaching style—Socratic hip, with a dose of irony—are evidently rapturous: Juliet falls hard for the dashingly romantic, inwardly sad instructor with a dying father. Meanwhile, the girls’ Christmas holiday demonstrates both how much and how little the two have changed, providing a few secondary characters against whom their collegiate arc may be measured. Later, David asks Juliet to join him on a boating trip to deliver groceries to his cancer-stricken father, but as her feelings deepen, he becomes more elusive. From David, Juliet learns some shaded secrets about Conrad, an alcoholic writer-in-residence with whom Juno has a flirtatious relation. On impulse, Juliet sleeps with Michael, and later Juno sleeps with Conrad. The sisters make up, and Juno discovers Conrad is responsible for the threatening, sexually violent letters that have been frightening her for weeks. David will join the sisters in confronting the sodden author.

Irish newcomer Gough deftly captures the twins’ youthful awe and giddy excitement during their freshman year, and though the plot ambles along fairly conventional paths, its course is stylistically nimble, intellectually unburdensome, and eminently companionable.

Pub Date: July 17, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-50172-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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