A psychologically acute depiction of modern Britain through the lens of one rainy summer day.

SUMMERWATER

A multivoiced narrative set in the Scottish Highlands, this broodingly suspenseful and engagingly intimate novel is a miniature portrait of family life in various forms, of old age and childhood, framed by wild nature, which becomes a character in itself.

“The sky is lying on the loch,” this meditative novel begins. And summer rain does indeed fall ceaselessly and torrentially on the Scottish lakeside retreat where a handful of vacationing families, each renting a cabin, become erstwhile and wary neighbors. Just a “huddle of chalets,” as one bored woman remarks, with “eyes at every window.” Most are English, some are Scottish, and one family—of nighttime noisemakers—is Romanian. The Scots resent the English (“they could stay in England with…their nasty little government”), and everyone disapproves of the Romanians (“You’re supposed to have left, you know, people like you,” one child taunts another). Each protagonist also battles the weather—the mother on her dawn run, the teenager kayaking too far in choppy water, the child on the perilous swing that dangles over the loch, the old man walking—which proves an escape from family tedium but may also harbor a hidden menace. “The sky has turned a yellowish shade of grey,” we are told. “Small creatures in their burrows nose the air and stay hungry. There will be deaths by morning.” With consummate skill, the author reveals the inner lives of a handful of characters, their meditations by turns intensely moving and laconically humorous (married sex, a middle-aged wife reflects, is “like oiling your bike chain, doesn’t have to be fun but it stops things falling apart”) while conjuring up both landscape and atmosphere with lyrical delicacy. The novel that began at dawn ends at nightfall with a satisfying though awful denouement that steers clear of melodrama.

A psychologically acute depiction of modern Britain through the lens of one rainy summer day.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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

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