Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack


Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack

Sometimes the title of a book is a review in itself. There are many unspeakable things in this book that I sincerely hope I never have to think about again. At the top of the list –

  • the use of the word aureole

“Once again, an aureole of light seemed to lift him by his meager hair….”

“And Maria’s grandfather, his white hair an aureole about his head…”

“…her gray hair in a tousled aureole, staring at nothing.”

“His penis flared; a shining aureole surrounded it.”

“…bushy hair stood on end, making an aureole around his head like illustrations in the German children’s book Struwwelpeter.”

“…large ears backlit, his head like an aureole.”

  • and also thrumming (used 24 times).

“Herbert’s ears, large and transparent, thrummed to the A sound.”

“…closed her eyes, and her left whisker thrummed. Felix stroked her body gently.”

  • Rasputin’s enormous rod
  • fingertips with personalities

“Across the city, the fingers were thrumming like mad, calling.”

  • string instruments that behave like ponies

“The musicians removed their gloved hands from their instruments’ strings and bowed. Like plunging horses, the instruments also bowed their necks, whinnying slightly.”

  • a Nazi doctor in stockings and a birthday party hat

Now let’s not speak of this book again.


I received my copy of Unspeakable Things from the publisher, Knopf Doubleday, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

18 responses

    • Yes, not one I’ll be recommending. I rarely give a book one star but in this case felt justified – the story was all over the shop (magic realism meets Holocaust). I had an ARC so I’m hoping an editor with a very big red pen worked hard crossing out the bulk of those thrums and aureoles!

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