The Man Booker Prize
2016
The Sellout
Book Jacket   Paul Beatty
2015
A Brief History of Seven Killings
Book Jacket   Marion James
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. An assassination attempt on Bob Marley stokes this sweeping portrait of Jamaica, encompassing a host of gangsters, CIA agents, journalists and businessmen.Marley is never mentioned by name in the third novel by James (The Book of Night Women, 2009, etc.). But the singer is unmistakably him, and the opening chapters, set in late 1976, evoke an attempt on his life sparked by tensions between gangs representing rival political parties. (In reality, as in the novel, the singer was wounded and went into exile in England.) And though we never hear Marley in his own voice, James massive novel makes room for pretty much everybody elses. Most prominent are Papa-Lo and Josey Wales, kingpins of the Copenhagen City gangs; Barry, a cynical CIA agent with orders to stop the march of communism though the red menace is the least of the islands problems; Alex, aRolling Stonereporter assigned to cover Marley who becomes enmeshed with the gangs; and Nina, who had a fling with Marley. As in his previous novels, James is masterful at inhabiting a variety of voices and dialects, and he writes unflinchingly about the violence, drug-fueled and coldblooded, that runs through the islands ghettos. Moreover, he has a ferocious and full character in Nina, who persistently reboots her life across 15 years, eventually moving to New York; her story exemplifies both the instinct to escape violence and the impossibility of shaking it entirely. But the book is undeniably overstuffed, with plenty of acreage given to low-level thugs, CIA-agent banter and Alexs outsider ramblings about Jamaican culture. James fiction thus far is forming a remarkable portrait of Jamaica in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the novels sprawl can be demanding.An ambitious and multivalent, if occasionally patience-testing, book. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
 Richard Flanagan
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A literary war novel with asplit personality, about a protagonist who loathes his dual character.Ambition leads to excess in thesixth novel by Flanagan (Wanting, 2009, etc.), a prizewinning writer much renowned in his nativeAustralia. The scenes of Australian POWs held by the Japanese have power anddepth, as do the postwar transformations of soldiers on both sides. But thenovel's deep flaw is a pivotal plot development that aims at the literaryheights of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary but sounds too oftenlike a swoon-worthy bodice ripper. "His pounding head, the pain in everymovement and act and thought, seemed to have as its cause and remedy her, andonly her and only her and only her," rhapsodizes Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon whowill be hailed as a national hero for his leadership in World War II, though hefeels deeply unworthy. His obsession is Amy, a woman he met seemingly bychance, who has made the rest of his existenceincluding his fianceeseem draband lifeless. She returns his ardor and ups the ante: "God, she thought, howshe wanted him, and how unseemly and unspeakable were the ways in which shewanted him." Alas, it is not to be, for she is married to his uncle, and he hasa war that will take him away, and each will think the other is dead. And thosestretches are where the novel really comes alive, as they depict the brutalityinflicted by the Japanese on the POWs who must build the Thai-Burma railway(which gives the novel its title) and ultimately illuminate their differentvalues and their shared humanity.When the leads are offstage,the novel approaches greatness in its inquiry into what it means to be a good person. But there's too much "her body was a poem beyondmemorising" for the novel to fulfill its considerable ambition. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Luminaries
 Eleanor Catton
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A layered, mannered, beguiling yarn, longlisted for the Booker Prize, by New Zealander novelist Catton. When Walter Moody arrives on a "wild shard of the Coast"--that of the then-remote South Island--in late January 1866, he discovers that strange doings are afoot: A local worthy has disappeared, a local belle de nuit has tried to do herself in, the town drunk turns out to possess a fortune against all odds, and the whole town is mumbling, murmuring and whispering like Sweethaven in Robert Altman's Popeye. Indeed, when Moody walks into his hotel on that--yes, dark and stormy--night, he interrupts a gathering of 12 local men who are trying to get to the bottom of the matter. Moody, as it turns out, is trained as a lawyer--"By training only," he demurs, "I have not yet been called to the Bar"--but, like everyone else, has been lured to the wild by the promise of gold. It is gold in all its glory that fuels this tale, though other goods figure, too, some smuggled in by the very phantom bark that has deposited Moody on the island. Catton's long opening, in which the narrative point of view ping-pongs among these 13 players and more, sets the stage for a chronologically challenging tale in which mystery piles atop mystery. Catton writes assuredly and with just the right level of flourish: "He was thinking of Sook Yongsheng, lying cold on the floor inside--his chin and throat smeared with boot-black, his eyebrows thickened, like a clown." She blends elements of Victorian adventure tale, ghost story, detective procedural la The Moonstone and shaggy dog tale to produce a postmodern tale to do Thomas Pynchon or Julio Cortzar proud; there are even echoes of Calvino in the author's interesting use of both astronomy and astrology. The possibilities for meta cleverness and archness are endless, and the whole business is too smart by half, but Catton seems mostly amused by her concoction, and that's just right. About the only fault of the book is its unending length: There's not an ounce of flab in it, but it's still too much for ordinary mortals to take in. There's a lovely payoff after the miles of twists and turns. It's work getting there but work of a thoroughly pleasant kind.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Bring Up the Bodies
Book Jacket   Hilary Mantel
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Second in Mantel's trilogy charting the Machiavellian trajectory of Thomas Cromwell. The Booker award-winning first volume, Wolf Hall (2009), ended before the titular residence, that of Jane Seymour's family, figured significantly in the life of King Henry VIII. Seeing through Cromwell's eyes, a point of view she has thoroughly assimilated, Mantel approaches the major events slantwise, as Cromwell, charged with the practical details of managing Henry's political and religious agendas, might have. We rejoin the characters as the king's thousand-day marriage to Anne Boleyn is well along. Princess Elizabeth is a toddler, the exiled Queen Katherine is dying, and Henry's disinherited daughter Princess Mary is under house arrest. As Master Secretary, Cromwell, while managing his own growing fortune, is always on call to put out fires at the court of the mercurial Henry (who, even for a king, is the ultimate Bad Boss). The English people, not to mention much of Europe, have never accepted Henry's second marriage as valid, and Anne's upstart relatives are annoying some of Britain's more entrenched nobility with their arrogance and preening. Anne has failed to produce a son, and despite Cromwell's efforts to warn her (the two were once allies of a sort), she refuses to alter her flamboyant behavior, even as Henry is increasingly beguiled by Jane Seymour's contrasting (some would say calculated) modesty. Cromwell, a key player in the annulment of Henry's first marriage, must now find a pretext for the dismantling of a second. Once he begins interrogating, with threats of torture, Anne's male retainers to gather evidence of her adulteries, Mantel has a difficult challenge in keeping up our sympathy for Cromwell. She succeeds, mostly by portraying Cromwell as acutely aware that one misstep could land "him, Cromwell" on the scaffold as well. That misstep will happen, but not in this book. The inventiveness of Mantel's language is the chief draw here; the plot, as such, will engage only the most determined of Tudor enthusiasts.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2011
The Sense of An Ending
Book Jacket   Julian Barnes
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2010
The Finkler Question
 Howard Jacobson
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Elegiacbut also humorousmeditation on life's big questions: life, death, the nature of justice, whether to sleep with a German. The book won the 2010 Man Booker Prize.Nearing the end of his 60s, Jacobson, who has likened himself to a "Jewish Jane Austen," is a very funny man. His lead character, a London media type named Julian Treslove, is not Jewish, but he might as well be: He has a Woody Allensize complex of neuroses and worries, and "his life had been one mishap after another." Mugged by a woman who utters a mysterious syllable"Ju," Treslove thinkswhile going through his pockets, he finds himself about as angst-ridden as an angst-ridden person can be. His widower friends Finkler and Libor, great successes in their day, are no pikers in the angst department, though, lonely and full of the usual aches and veys; as Treslove notes, "A man without a wife can be lonely in a big black Mercedes, no matter how many readers he has." The three pass their days together gnawing various questions to the bone, not least whether, in the post-Holocaust days, it is possible to "contemplate having an affair with someone who looked German." (Consensus: No, even if that someone was Marlene Dietrich.) When Libor's great-niece, Hephzibah, sweeps into the picture, Treslove finds himself thinking much more about questions of the heart, even as Finkler, a writer of pop philosophy, is swept away in a flood of "ASHamed Jews" who "were not to blame for anything" but were in the thick of controversy all the samefor, Finkler sighs, the very word "Jew" (was that what Treslove's attacker was saying?) is "a password to madness...One little word with no hiding place for reason in it."Jacobson's gentle tale of urban crises of the soul slowly turns into an examination of anti-Semitism, of what it means to be Jewish in a time when "the Holocaust had become negotiable."At turns a romp and a disquisition worthy of Maimonides; elegantly written throughout, and with plenty of punchlines too.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2009
Wolf Hall: A Novel
 Hilary Mantel
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Exhaustive examination of the circumstances surrounding Henry VIII's schism-inducing marriage to Anne Boleyn. Versatile British novelist Mantel (Giving Up the Ghost, 2006, etc.) forays into the saturated field of Tudor historicals to cover eight years (152735) of Henry's long, tumultuous reign. They're chronicled from the point of view of consummate courtier Thomas Cromwell, whose commentary on the doings of his irascible and inwardly tormented king is impressionistic, idiosyncratic and self-interested. The son of a cruel blacksmith, Cromwell fled his father's beatings to become a soldier of fortune in France and Italy, later a cloth trader and banker. He begins his political career as secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England. Having failed to secure the Pope's permission for Henry to divorce Queen Katherine, Wolsey falls out of favor with the monarch and is supplanted by Sir Thomas More, portrayed here as a domestic tyrant and enthusiastic torturer of Protestants. Unemployed, Cromwell is soon advising Henry himself and acting as confidante to Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary, former mistress of both Henry and King Francis I of France. When plague takes his wife and children, Cromwell creates a new family by taking in his late siblings' children and mentoring impoverished young men who remind him of his low-born, youthful self. The religious issues of the day swirl around the events at court, including the rise of Luther and the burgeoning movement to translate the Bible into vernacular languages. Anne is cast in an unsympathetic light as a petulant, calculating temptress who withholds her favors until Henry is willing to make her queen. Although Mantel's language is original, evocative and at times wittily anachronistic, this minute exegesis of a relatively brief, albeit momentous, period in English history occasionally grows tedious. The characters, including Cromwell, remain unknowable, their emotions closely guarded; this works well for court intrigues, less so for fiction. Masterfully written and researched but likely to appeal mainly to devotees of all things Tudor. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2008
The White Tiger
Book Jacket   Aravind Adiga
2007
The Gathering
Book Jacket   Anne Enright
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A lyrical meditation on memory and connectedness involving three generations of an Irish family. In her fourth novel (The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, 2003, etc.), Enright seamlessly melds past and present, childhood and struggling maturity, death and earthy life, in Veronica Hegarty's looping account of her blood line. Her mother bore 12 children and suffered seven miscarriages, yet it is a single death, of Veronica's troubled older brother Liam, which pulls the narrative together. The discovery of his body in the sea at Brighton (an English resort town) with stones in his pockets triggers a kind of breakdown in Veronica. It ignites a long-brewing crisis in her marriage, and it releases a flood of memories: Liam visiting her after the birth of one of her two daughters; Liam on a childhood trip to the seaside via a visit to a relative in an insane asylum; Liam being sexually abused by Nugent, a friend of their grandparents, Ada and Charlie. Veronica's insomnia after the bereavement leads her to start writing a version of Ada's life, speculating on an affair between Ada and Nugent. Veronica's own sexual history plays a part too, as well as her hunger for "a larger life." Like Ali Smith, Enright is an original. Her poetic, often lovely phrasing and surprising perspectives create a distinctive mood, and her novel subtly links the Hegartys in a chain of damage, regret and finally continuity. A dreamy, melancholy swirl of a story, wise about the bonds and burdens linking children to each other and their grown selves. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2006
The Inheritance of Loss
 Kiran Desai
  Book Jacket
2005
The Sea
 John Banville
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2004
The Line of Beauty
Book Jacket   Alan Hollinghurst
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Britisher Hollinghurst (The Spell, 1998, etc.) isn't shy: At 400-plus pages sprinkled with references to Henry James, his fourth outing aspires to the status of an epic about sex, politics, money, and high society. Though he's best known for his elegant descriptions of gay male life and pitch-perfect prose, Hollinghurst is most striking here for his successful, often damning, observations about the vast divides between the ruling class and everyone else. It's 1983, and narrator Nick Guest, age 20, is literally a guest in the household of Conservative MP Gerald Fedden, whose son, Toby, Nick befriended at Oxford. Given an attic room and loosely assigned the task of looking after the Feddens' unstable manic-depressive daughter Catherine, Nick is given entr…e into a world of drunken, drug-laced parties at ancestral manors, high-stakes financial transactions, and politicians all obsessed with catching a glimpse of "The Lady"—Thatcher herself (who finally does make a cameo—hilariously—toward the end). Nick pursues his studies in James (though they may seem overkill in a novel already so saturated in the Jamesian) and his search for love—with a young Jamaican office worker, then with a closeted and cokehead Lebanese millionaire—though, as becomes clear, both his scholarship and sexuality are painfully peripheral in the world he's chosen to inhabit. Oddly, Nick is less interesting as a character than as an observer: His youthful affairs do gain gravitas as the '80s progress under the specter of AIDS, but over the story's course he goes from a virginal 20-year-old to a wizened 24-year-old. More fascinating are Hollinghurst's incisive depictions of the brilliance and ease that insulate and animate the Feddens—especially the witty and difficult Gerald and the spectacular mess that is Catherine.—and the crushing realization that Nick, unlike those around him, does not have the casual luxury to crash up his own life and survive. A beautifully realized portrait of a decade and a social class, but without a well-developed emotional core. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2003
Vernon God Little
Book Jacket   DBC Pierre
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A schoolyard massacre, a teenager on the lam, gross-out humor, and jabs at the media. Two things you should know at the outset. First, the narrative voice of 15-year-old Vernon Little overwhelms everything else. Second, the story is shaped like a doughnut. We know that one summer Tuesday in the oil town of Martirio in central Texas there occurred a Columbine-style massacre, and we know the identity of the shooter, but the context of the killings is withheld until near the end: that's the hole in the doughnut. The delayed revelation is pointless and without suspense; what happened is that Jesus Navarro, a Mexican kid and Vernon's buddy, goaded unendurably by his classmates, mowed down 16 of them before killing himself. Vernon is being held as a possible accessory to murder, though we know our boy is innocent. In his loud whine, he tells us about his Mom, his Mom's friends, his obsession (panties), and his predicament (no control over his bowels). His identity is filtered through favorite words ("slime," "cream pie," "fucken"), which capture a teenager's self-absorption, but nothing more: there is no vision of his world. He escapes to Mexico only to be entrapped by the gorgeous Taylor, a high-school acquaintance who's working hand-in-glove with Lally, a sinister con man who has already tricked Vern's Mom. Flown back to Houston, Vern stands accused of 34 murders; his TV image is so familiar that viewers even connect him to others (the "suggestibility" factor). Meanwhile, Lally has set up his own Reality TV, filming Death Row inmates and having viewers decide the order of their executions. Vern is convicted, then pardoned; what saves him are his own dried turds, found miles from the crime scene ("Stool's Out!" says Time). Humor and mass murder make for strange bedfellows, and first-timer Pierre fails to find the tone that might harmonize them. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2002
Life of Pi
 Yann Martel
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780151008117 A fable about the consolatory and strengthening powers of religion flounders about somewhere inside this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which was shortlisted for Canada's Governor General's Award. The story is told in retrospect by Piscine Molitor Patel (named for a swimming pool, thereafter fortuitously nicknamed "Pi"), years after he was shipwrecked when his parents, who owned a zoo in India, were attempting to emigrate, with their menagerie, to Canada. During 227 days at sea spent in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger (mostly with the latter, which had efficiently slaughtered its fellow beasts), Pi found serenity and courage in his faith: a frequently reiterated amalgam of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian beliefs. The story of his later life, education, and mission rounds out, but does not improve upon, the alternately suspenseful and whimsical account of Pi's ordeal at sea-which offers the best reason for reading this otherwise preachy and somewhat redundant story of his Life. Author tour
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2001
True History of the Kelly Gang
 Peter Carey
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780375410840 Booker Prize?winner Carey (Jack Maggs, 1998, etc.) assumes the voice of 19th-century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. The story opens with an account of the Kelly gang?s capture by police on June 28, 1880, so we know this tale will end badly for the most famous of the ?bushrangers,? who expressed the rage felt by many poor Australians, especially those who were, like Kelly, descended from Irish convicts, against English political and economic oppression. Ned?s first-person narrative is addressed to the daughter he?s never seen (her pregnant mother fled to America rather than witness his inevitable death) in run-on prose that faultlessly reproduces the speech rhythms of the uneducated without becoming distracting. Describing his youth, Kelly claims the early charges against him were largely fabricated by vengeful police with a grudge against his mother?s family. Her son adores Ellen Quinn Kelly, never judging her for the men she takes up with after his father abandons her (though he hates them all), or even for apprenticing him to bushranger Harry Power when he?s only 15. Landing in jail shortly thereafter, Ned writes, ?I knew I were finally in that place ordained from the moment of my birth.? We quickly learn that the basically good-hearted Ned is a mediocre criminal and poor judge of character: his gang includes reckless younger brother Dan; Steve Hart, intoxicated by the self-destructive legends of Irish rebellion; and opium-addicted Joe Byrne, whose pipe companion betrays them to the police. Though their first robbery nets enough money to get them all safely to America, Ned suicidally refuses to leave. Our naive hero thinks he can get his mother out of jail by addressing long, self-justifying letters to the authorities. Not a chance, of course, but there?s a rough, poetic grandeur to Ned?s belief that ?we had showed the world what convict blood could do. We proved there were no taint we was of true bone blood and beauty born.? Carey has written several fine contemporary novels, but his genius always seems especially invigorated by an encounter with the past, as in this sorrowful, bleakly beautiful meditation on his native Australia?s poisoned history. First printing of 75,000
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780375410840 Booker Prize?winner Carey (Jack Maggs, 1998, etc.) assumes the voice of 19th-century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. The story opens with an account of the Kelly gang?s capture by police on June 28, 1880, so we know this tale will end badly for the most famous of the ?bushrangers,? who expressed the rage felt by many poor Australians, especially those who were, like Kelly, descended from Irish convicts, against English political and economic oppression. Ned?s first-person narrative is addressed to the daughter he?s never seen (her pregnant mother fled to America rather than witness his inevitable death) in run-on prose that faultlessly reproduces the speech rhythms of the uneducated without becoming distracting. Describing his youth, Kelly claims the early charges against him were largely fabricated by vengeful police with a grudge against his mother?s family. Her son adores Ellen Quinn Kelly, never judging her for the men she takes up with after his father abandons her (though he hates them all), or even for apprenticing him to bushranger Harry Power when he?s only 15. Landing in jail shortly thereafter, Ned writes, ?I knew I were finally in that place ordained from the moment of my birth.? We quickly learn that the basically good-hearted Ned is a mediocre criminal and poor judge of character: his gang includes reckless younger brother Dan; Steve Hart, intoxicated by the self-destructive legends of Irish rebellion; and opium-addicted Joe Byrne, whose pipe companion betrays them to the police. Though their first robbery nets enough money to get them all safely to America, Ned suicidally refuses to leave. Our naive hero thinks he can get his mother out of jail by addressing long, self-justifying letters to the authorities. Not a chance, of course, but there?s a rough, poetic grandeur to Ned?s belief that ?we had showed the world what convict blood could do. We proved there were no taint we was of true bone blood and beauty born.? Carey has written several fine contemporary novels, but his genius always seems especially invigorated by an encounter with the past, as in this sorrowful, bleakly beautiful meditation on his native Australia?s poisoned history. First printing of 75,000
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2000
The Blind Assassin
Book Jacket   Margaret Atwood
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Atwood's skillfully woven tenth novel is her most ambitious and challenging work to date, and a worthy successor to her recent triumph, Alias Grace (1996). It tells two absorbing stories that cast an initially enigmatic, ultimately pitilessly revealing light on each other. The central one is octogenarian Iris Griffen's bitter reminiscence of her life as the privileged daughter of a prosperous Ontario family, the Chases, and later as wife to Richard Griffen, the businessman who effectively inherits and firmly directs the Chase fortunes. The counterpart story, The Blind Assassin, is a strange futuristic tale that dramatizes in unusual (faux-Oriental) fashion a nameless woman's obsession with a science-fiction writer whose imaginings blithely mirror and exploit his "power" over her. This latter tale is published as the work of Iris's younger sister Laura, whose death in a 1945 automobile accident is judged by all who knew the sisters "as close to suicide as damn is to swearing." Newspaper items reporting notable events in the lives of the Chases and Griffens over a period of more than sixty years further enrich a many-leveled, smartly paced narrative that gradually discloses the nature and root causes of Laura's unconventionality and "madness," the full extent of Richard's compulsive aggrandizement and isolationism, and the price exacted from Iris for the "convenience" of her marriage. Intermittent echoes of Forster's Howards End sound throughout this bleak saga of political, social, and gender conflict. And Atwood keeps our attention riveted by rendering her increasingly dramatic story in a fluent style distinguished by precise sensory description ("the thin, abstemious rain of early April") and thought-provoking metaphor ("Laura was flint in a nest of thistledown"). Furthermore, a bombshell of a climactic surprise (which we probably should have seen coming) lurks in the stunning final pages. Boldly imagined and brilliantly executed. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1999
Disgrace
Book Jacket   J M Coetzee
 
1998
Amsterdam
 Ian McEwan
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Winner of this year's Booker Prize, McEwan's latest (Black Dogs, 1992; Enduring Love, 1998) is a smartly written tale that devolves slowly into tricks and soapy vapors. When she dies of a sudden, rapidly degenerative illness, London glamour photographer Molly Lane is married to rich British publisher George Lane, although numerous erstwhile lovers still live and stir in the controversial Molly's wake. These high-visibility figures include internationally famed composer Clive Linley, racing now to complete his overdue magnum opus, a new symphony for the millennium; his close friend Vernon Halliday, the liberal, ambitious, idealistic editor of a London newspaper that's struggling hard to keep its readership; and right-winger Thatcherite Julian Garmony, now Britain's foreign secretary. The daily lives of these three high-profilers--though mostly of Clive and Vernon, who receive the main focus--are nothing if not interesting in the capable hands of McEwan, who shows himself more than plentifully knowledgeable in the details of journalism and music, describing with a Masterpiece Theater color and exactness the torments of composition and the rigors of keeping a big newspaper in business. The machinery of plot gradually takes over, though, when George finds, in Molly's left-behind things, three wildly incriminating sex-photos of the foreign secretary--and makes them available to Vernon Halliday, for whom the idea of bringing down the conservative Garmony (who's considering a run for PM) by publishing the pictures is irresistible. This plan of massive public humiliation, however, offends Clive Linley, who thinks of it as a deep betrayal of the dead Molly, and bitterness rises like a serpent in the CliveVernon friendship, hardly put to rest when Vernon learns of something morally dubious that Clive's just done--and that could, in fact, be made a nifty tool of revenge. And so things progress via trick, counter-trick, and backfire, in a novelistic try for a big ending that just gets littler instead. Middle-brow fiction British style, strong on the surface, vapid at the center. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1997
The God of Small Things
 Arundhati Roy
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780679457312 A brilliantly constructed first novel that untangles an intricate web of sexual and caste conflict in a vivid style reminiscent of Salman Rushdie's early work. The major characters are Estha and Rahel, the fraternal twin son and daughter of a wealthy family living in the province of Kerala. The family's prosperity is derived from a pickle factory and rubber estate, and their prideful Anglophilia essentially estranges them from their country's drift toward Communism and their ``inferiors' '' hunger for independence and equality. The events of a crucial December day in 1969--including an accidental death that may have been no accident and the violent consequences that afflict an illicit couple who have broken ``the Love Law''-- are the moral and narrative center around which the episodes of the novel repeatedly circle. Shifting backward and forward in time with effortless grace, Roy fashions a compelling nexus of personalities that influence the twins' ``eerie stealth'' and furtive interdependence. These include their beautiful and mysteriously remote mother Ammu; her battling ``Mammachi'' (who runs the pickle factory) and ``Pappachi'' (an insufficiently renowned entomologist); their Oxford-educated Marxist Uncle Chacko and their wily ``grandaunt'' Baby Kochamma; and the volatile laborite ``Untouchable'' Velutha, whose relationship with the twins' family will prove his undoing. Roy conveys their explosive commingling in a vigorous prose dominated by odd syntactical and verbal combinations and coinages (a bad dream experience during midday nap-time is an ``aftermare'') reminiscent of Gerard Manly Hopkins's ``sprung rhythm,'' incantatory repetitions, striking metaphors (Velutha is seen ``standing in the shade of the rubber trees with coins of sunshine dancing on his body'') and sensuous descriptive passages (``The sky was orange, and the coconut trees were sea anemones waving their tentacles, hoping to trap and eat an unsuspecting cloud''). In part a perfectly paced mystery story, in part an Indian Wuthering Heights: a gorgeous and seductive fever dream of a novel, and a truly spectacular debut. (First serial to Granta)
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1996
Last Orders
Book Jacket   Graham Swift
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780679412243 Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request--namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies--insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does--or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms--including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism--with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.
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1995
The Ghost Road
Book Jacket   Pat Barker
 
1994
How Late It Was, How Late
 James Kelman
  Book Jacket
1993
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
 Roddy Doyle
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780670843459 Irish writer Doyle's fourth novel (The Van, The Snapper, etc.)--and the just-announced 1993 Booker Prize winner: a story that depicts with remarkable acuity that extraordinary intensity of response that is at the heart of childhood. Doyle, who's limned with wry affection the lives of families in Dublin's working-class neighborhoods, here makes ten-year-old Paddy Clarke of Barrytown, Dublin, his narrator. Barrytown, a suburb once on the edge of the city, is now increasingly surrounded by new public-housing projects--a situation that makes for a certain uneasiness since the Barrytowners themselves are barely holding onto their own hard-won middle-class respectability. But for Paddy, best friend Kevin, and the rest of the gang, these construction sites are the playgrounds of choice--rich sources of useful material and the perfect settings for mischief. Paddy, who lives with his three siblings and parents in a modest house--the only one with a room his mother insists on calling ``the drawing room''--details in vivid colloquialisms his pranks, his dreams, and the wonderfully imaginative if harmlessly naughty games children devise when released from TV's bondage. Paddy is increasingly troubled, though, by the fear that he will, like friends Aidan and Charles, lose a parent. He loves his parents dearly and--aware of their fights, his mother's unhappiness, and his father's drinking- -tries desperately to intervene, often staying awake all night (``I was on guard...all I had to do was stay awake...''). Preoccupied and unhappy, he plans to run away, but his father leaves first. And Paddy knows then that ``tomorrow or the day after my ma was going to call me over to her and was going to say--You're the man of the house now, Patrick.'' Perhaps too many anecdotes of boys beings boys, but Doyle has rendered childhood as it really is: a time of brutal absolutes, of boundless possibilities, and of dark, inconsolable griefs. A work of maturity and grace.
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1992
The English Patient
Book Jacket   Michael Ondaatje
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780679416784 Canadian poet/novelist Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion, 1987, etc.) assembles, mosaic-fashion, the lives of four occupants of an Italian villa near Florence at the end of WW II. The war-damaged villa, its grounds strewn with mines, has gone from to German stronghold to Allied hospital, its sole occupants now a young Canadian nurse, Hana, and her last patient, a born victim. They are joined by David Caravaggio, an Italian-Canadian friend of Hana's father but also a thief used by Western intelligence, and Kip (Kirpal Singh), an Indian sapper in the British Army. So: a dying man and two wrecks--for David has become a morphine addict after his recent capture and torture, while Hana, who coped with the loss of her soldier sweetheart and their child (aborted), has been undone by news of her father's death. Only Kip is functioning efficiently, defusing the mines. Ondaatje superimposes on this tableau the landscape of the pre-war North African desert, with its strange brotherhood of Western explorers, filtered through the consciousness of Hana's patient. Though he claims to have forgotten his identity during the fiery fall from his plane into the desert, it seems the putative Englishman is the Hungarian explorer (and sometime German spy) Almasy; but such puzzles count for less than his erudition (his beloved Herodotus is the novel's presiding spirit), his internationalism (``Erase nations!''), and his doomed but incandescent love affair with the bride of an English explorer--an affair ignited by the desert and Herodotus, and a dramatic contrast to the ``formal celibacy'' of the love developing at the villa between Hana and Kip, which ends (crudely) when Kip learns of the Hiroshima bombing, discovers his racial identity, and quits the white man's war. A challenging, disorienting, periodically captivating journey without maps, best when least showy, as in the marvelous account of Kip's adoption by an eccentric English peer, his bomb-disposal instructor.
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780679416784 Canadian poet/novelist Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion, 1987, etc.) assembles, mosaic-fashion, the lives of four occupants of an Italian villa near Florence at the end of WW II. The war-damaged villa, its grounds strewn with mines, has gone from to German stronghold to Allied hospital, its sole occupants now a young Canadian nurse, Hana, and her last patient, a born victim. They are joined by David Caravaggio, an Italian-Canadian friend of Hana's father but also a thief used by Western intelligence, and Kip (Kirpal Singh), an Indian sapper in the British Army. So: a dying man and two wrecks--for David has become a morphine addict after his recent capture and torture, while Hana, who coped with the loss of her soldier sweetheart and their child (aborted), has been undone by news of her father's death. Only Kip is functioning efficiently, defusing the mines. Ondaatje superimposes on this tableau the landscape of the pre-war North African desert, with its strange brotherhood of Western explorers, filtered through the consciousness of Hana's patient. Though he claims to have forgotten his identity during the fiery fall from his plane into the desert, it seems the putative Englishman is the Hungarian explorer (and sometime German spy) Almasy; but such puzzles count for less than his erudition (his beloved Herodotus is the novel's presiding spirit), his internationalism (``Erase nations!''), and his doomed but incandescent love affair with the bride of an English explorer--an affair ignited by the desert and Herodotus, and a dramatic contrast to the ``formal celibacy'' of the love developing at the villa between Hana and Kip, which ends (crudely) when Kip learns of the Hiroshima bombing, discovers his racial identity, and quits the white man's war. A challenging, disorienting, periodically captivating journey without maps, best when least showy, as in the marvelous account of Kip's adoption by an eccentric English peer, his bomb-disposal instructor.
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1992
Sacred Hunger
Book Jacket   Barry Unsworth
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780385265300 A masterful, thoroughly engrossing tale from acclaimed historical novelist Unsworth (Pascali's Island, 1980; Stone Virgin, 1986)--about the British slave trade in the mid-18th century and a shipboard mutiny from which arose a community based on racial equality. Through the perspectives of Erasmus Kemp, son of the shipowner and an obsessive, insensitive youth; and Matthew Paris--his cousin, a doctor (and ship's physician) recently imprisoned for publishing his seditious views in favor of evolution--Unsworth contrasts imagery of a genteel life in England with an increasingly brutal, barbaric existence under the command of the maniacal Captain Thurso. As slaves are collected from traders along the African coast, the fortunes of the owner decline precipitously, with his suicide and the ruin of Erasmus's fanciful plans of empire-building and grandeur through a good marriage the result. Becalmed, the ship's human cargo begins to sicken and die, and an increasingly vexed Thurso opts to alleviate matters by throwing ailing slaves overboard--an act spurring Paris and the crew to kill him. After landing on the remote coast of Florida, ex-slaves and sailors live in freedom for 12 years--inspired by the utopian ideals of an itinerant artist picked up in Africa--until they are captured by soldiers under Erasmus, who, consumed by the same sacred hunger for wealth that made chattel of human beings, has spared no effort to hunt down the cousin whom he blames for the loss of his dream. Intense in its elaboration of two vastly different visions of destiny and cause-and-effect, more steeped in history than Charles Johnson's Middle Passage: a riveting, outstanding addition to an already impressive oeuvre.
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1991
The Famished Road
 Ben Okri
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. 9780385424769 Like one of those populous medieval paintings of the Last Judgment, the African ghetto of the Nigerian-born Okri (Stars of the New Curfew, 1989), winner of the 1991 Booker Prize, not only teems with lives and spirits both sacred and profane, but contains profound truths--all described in rich, often lyrical prose. The narrator of this tale of life in a ghetto on the eve of independence is Azaro, a ``spirit-child'' who belonged to a group of spirit children who did not look forward to being born: they ``disliked the rigors of existence, the unfulfilled longings of the world, and the amazing indifference of the Living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe.'' Tired of being born and dying so many times, Azaro chooses to live, perhaps ``because I wanted to make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother.'' And live he does, but his name Azaro/Lazarus is not coincidental: he is constantly battling disease, disaster, and the spirits who try to recapture him. The ghetto itself is a harsh world of endemic poverty, crime, and political chicanery as local bullies vie to establish their political factions. Hovering in the background is the mysterious but helpful photographer; the enigmatic and powerful Madame Koto; and the malevolent blind singer, as well as a slew of good and bad spirits. Meanwhile, Azaro's parents' lives are a constant struggle; but as the election nears, Azaro's father enjoys a brief success, and in a subsequent vision proclaims that life is a road we're building that does lead to death but also to ``wonderful things'' for ``so long as we are alive, so long as we feel, so long as we love, everything in us is an energy we can use.'' There is at last a moment of serenity, and Azaro savors the sweetness that has dissolved his fears: ``I was not afraid of time.'' Long in the telling, like a great epic poem, Okri's tale is a beautifully rendered allegory, enriched by its African setting, of love powerful enough to defy even death and his minions.
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1990
Possession
 A S Byatt
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Like a typical Victorian decorator, British novelist and story-writer Byatt (Sugar, 1987; Still Life, 1985) crams into her latest novel enough literary bric-a-brac and furnishings to have a work rich in material but overwhelming in effect. The setting is contemporary Britain, where two academics try to establish the links between Victorian poets Randolph Ash and Christa bel LaMotte (loosely based on Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti). When Roland Mitchell, who has written his dissertation on Randolph Ash, discovers two letters by Ash that hint at a relationship between Ash and LaMotte, he decides to pursue the connection on his own. For one thing, the field of Ash studies is crowded--and dominated as well by the American and immensely well-funded Ash scholar, Mortimer Cropper--and for another Roland's personal and professional life seems at an impasse. He travels up to Lincoln, where the university's women's studies department, headed by Dr. Maud Bailey, has much LaMotte material. Maud, a sometime feminist who is ashamed of her beauty, is a descendant of the LaMotte family, and Roland soon confides in her. The two decide to work together to resolve the mystery. But as they follow the clues they unturn, their fellow academics become suspicious--and envious. At the end, there is a nicely satiric academic version of a climactic police chase, complete with a graveyard stakeout where all is revealed, villainy punished, and true love acknowledged. Uncompromisingly literary and prolix. There are pages of poetry and prose written by Byatt's fictitious characters, and her pace is leisurely and at times ponderous. But within this overabundance are telling sketches of contemporary academic life and a warm sympathy for its men and women. No easy read, then, but worth the effort--especially for those who miss those wonderfully intelligent, if exasperatingly encyclopedic, novels of the past. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1989
The Remains of the Day
Book Jacket   Kazuo Ishiguro
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Ishiguro is an Englishman of Japanese descent (he moved to England as a small child) whose two previous novels (A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World) featured Japanese characters; here, he breaks new ground with a slow-moving rumination on the world of the English country-house butler. For 35 years, Stevens was Lord Darlington's butler, giving faithful service. Now, in 1956, Darlington Hall has a new, American owner, and Stevens is taking a short break to drive to the West Country and visit Mrs. Benn, the housekeeper until she left the Hall to get married. The novel is predominantly flashbacks to the 20's and 30's, as Stevens evaluates his profession and concludes that "dignity" is the key to the best butlering; beyond that, a great butler devotes himself "to serving a great gentleman--and through the latter, to serving humanity." He considers he "came of age" as a butler in 1923, when he successfully oversaw an international conference while his father, also a butler, lay dying upstairs. A second key test came in 1936, when the housekeeper announced her engagement (and departure) during another major powwow. Each time, Stevens felt triumphant--his mask of professional composure never slipped. Yet two things become clear as Stevens drives West. Lord Darlington, as a leading appeaser of Hitler, is now an utterly discredited figure; far from "serving humanity," Stevens had misplaced his trust in an employer whose life was "a sad waste." As for the housekeeper, she had always loved Stevens, but failed to penetrate his formidable reserve; and at their eventual, climactic meeting, which confirms that it's too late for both of them, he acknowledges to himself that the feeling was mutual. This novel has won high praise in England, and one can certainly respect the convincing voice and the carefully bleached prose; yet there is something doomed about Ishiguro's effort to enlist sympathy for such a self-censoring stuffed shirt, and in the end he can manage only a small measure of pathos for his disappointed servant. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1988
Oscar and Lucinda
Book Jacket   Peter Carey
 
1987
Moon Tiger
 Penelope Lively
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Winner of the 1987 Booker Prize in England, this novel has at its center historian and journalist Claudia Hampton, a woman who lies in a hospital bed dying of old age but who uses the immobility to stratify, like an outcropping, all the layers of her life. In many of her fine works, Lively has written about history, its jokes and permutations, with the consistent knack of keeping personal scale while destiny goes blithely on--and Claudia is a good vehicle for this. Her incestuous relationship with brilliant brother Gordon, her marriage to shallow businessman Jasper, the mothering of her daughter (ambivalent at best), the great central affair of her life (with a British tank commander in North Africa during WW II)--they all illustrate the relative insignificance yet enormous pleasure of living consciously within time. Yet this isn't Lively's best work. Though rich and varied, it's a little too much the tone poem, too much the elegiac, rueful, amused retrospective. Claudia in the hospital is a flashback machine (multiplied by small additional flashbacks that narrate an incident in the voices and heads of its participants). A certain innocence born of forward-facing narrative (what'll happen next?) is thus lost to the reader; the book is frozen motionless by the snows of yesteryear. Textured and artful, but a touch too portentous also. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1986
The Old Devils
 Kingsley Amis
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. In this bilious and booze-sodden narrative (winner of the 1986 Booker Prize), Amis once again transforms insult, ridicule, and reaction into high comic art, much of it at the expense of his own kind for a change. But that explains the unusual degree of sympathy also in evidence here for the like-minded Welshmen (and women) who endure, with varying degrees of grace, the onslaught of old age. Malcolm Cellan-Davies, afflicted with bad teeth and bowel problems, spends his retirement translating Welsh verse, and meeting his mates, all ex-members of a defunct squash club, at a pub named ""the Bible."" These daily ""Bible sessions"" include Charlie Norris, an overweight, alcoholic restaurateur, and Peter Thomas, also obese, who's always on the lookout for ""vulgarity, affectation, and shoddiness."" All of which seem to arrive in South Wales with the return, after 30 years, of their old friend, Alun Weaver, a popular poet and, in one friend's words, an ""up-market media Welshman"" who has made quite a career of pontificating about ""things Welsh"" on TV. In search of his ""roots,"" this ""second-rate bloody ersatz"" version of the justly celebrated Welsh poet, Brydan, is more interested in planting than sowing. Malcolm's wife, Gwen, Charlie's Sophie, and a number of other old flames all welcome the vain and selfish writer into their beds, thus bringing out into the open all the pent-up problems of these superannuated swingers. When the white-haired Don Juan dies an untimely death (""a rather raw occasion all round""), his charming and still beautiful wife, Rhiannon, rekindles a long-cherished affection of her own for Peter, who's been stuck for years in a loveless marriage with Muriel, a tart-tongued harridan in the Amis tradition. Plenty of boisterous pub crawls and witty chin-wags add up to vintage Amis. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1985
The Bone People
Book Jacket   Keri Hume
1984
Hotel du Lac
Book Jacket   Anita Brookner
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Edith Hope, 39, ""a writer of romantic fiction under a more thrusting name,"" has come to a small, quiet Swiss hotel in the off-season--to recover from (or atone for) some unspecified, scandalous ""lapse"" in her London behavior. As in Brookner's Look at Me (1983), this Jamesian, Woolfian heroine is unmarried, wary, cerebral--torn between involvement and detachment, self-dramatization and self-deprecation. At first, then, while writing letters to her married lover back home, Edith plays the role of the watcher, becoming the confidante to two hotel guests--each of whom represents one womanly approach to the problem of romance: regal widow Mrs. Pusey--gloriously well-preserved at 79, accompanied by her plumply sexy daughter--is ""completely preoccupied with the femininity which has always provided her with life's chief delights""; on the other hand, shrill Monica, rebellious and quasi-anorexic wife of a nobleman, offers ""the rueful world of defiance, of taunting, of teasing, of spoiling for a fight."" And a third alternative to Edith's own romanticism is provided by enigmatic guest Mr. Neville, who urges her to adopt an ""entirely selfish"" approach to life and love. Edith considers all these possibilities--while recalling (and revealing) the details of that London ""lapse"": not showing up for her scheduled wedding to a bland, safe suitor. She receives another, odder marriage proposal from elegantly creepy Mr. Neville. (""You are a lady. . . As my wife, you will do very well. Unmarried, I'm afraid you will soon look a bit of a fool."") But finally, after a few more revelations, Edith will return to her romantic one-true-love. . . even though she's quite aware that it's illusory, half-unrequited, doomed. In many ways, this sad little comedy is less subtle, more artificial than Brookner's three previous, similar character-portraits: the themes are laid on thick, starting right off with Edith's surname and occupation; the James/Woolf echoes are blatantly arranged; the players (including Edith herself) are more types than credible characters. Still, for readers who relish a blend of extra-dry humor, tartly wistful introspection, and literary self-consciousness, this small entertainment--winner of England's Booker Prize--will be a delicate, provocative pleasure. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1983
Life and Times of Michael K
 J M Coetzee
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1982
Schindlers Ark
 Thomas Keneally
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1981
Midnights Children
Book Jacket   Salman Rushdie
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. When Indian novelist Rushdie arrived with Grimus in 1979 we called him "an imagination to watch." And he'll be watched indeed once this bravura fiction starts circulating--a picaresque entertainment that's clearly inspired by close readings of the modern South American fabulists and, above all, Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Rushdie's own Tristram is named Saleem Sinai--and he is born at the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947, making him exactly contemporary with the life of India-as-a-nation. In fact, Saleem and 580 other "midnight children" born at that moment grow up to find themselves equipped with powers of telepathic communication, foresight, and heightened individual sensoria: Saleem's particular gift is a "cucumber" of a nose with which he goes through life literally smelling change. The Sinai family, originally Kashmiri Moslems, migrate to Bombay, living in ex-colonial digs. And a switch at birth with a neighbor's baby seeds narrative trouble that flowers at different times later on in the book: opera buffa complications all the way. Saleem seems to be in the middle of all cataclysmic Indian events, too. He's present during language riots and a dinner-party coup in Pakistan (where his mother fled after a marital spat involving the revealed baby-switch). Because of his olfactory talent, he becomes a "man-dog" tracker for a Pakistani military unit during the debacle in Bangladesh. And, back in Bombay, Saleem is clapped into jail with the other "midnight children" by "the Widow"--Indira Gandhi--during the dictatorial Emergency. Rushdie swoops, all colors unfurled, all stops out, through and around his synchronic fable with great gusto and sentimental fizz. And though such a rodomontade would be shameless if made out of more familiar material, the sub-continental excessiveness (and the fascinating history lesson which is incidentally built in) keeps us loading and firing right along. Tour de force, in other words--and so, of course, a little exhausting; but, unlike other fantastical picaresques, this one is truly worth the effort. A big striped balloon of a book, often dizzying with talent. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1980
Rites of Passage
Book Jacket   William Golding
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A different sort of Golding novel--at least until his familiar themes rise all too clearly (and rather incongruously) in the last chapters. The book is the early-1800s shipboard journal of Edmund Talbot, ""a young gentleman going to assist the governor in the administration of one of HIS Majesty's colonies!"" And, as the decrepit wooden ship heads slowly toward New Zealand, Edmund's diary--addressed to his unnamed but famously influential mentor back in England--tells us something of his fellow travelers (an obsequious parson, the hating captain, an aging belle, a freethinking pamphleteer, officers and emigrants) but more about Edmund himself: he's a well-meaning snob, peevish and pettish, full of allusions to Plato (in the original), fatuously obsessed with developing the ""political"" arts (flattery, manipulation), comically intent on controlling his seasickness and learning to ""speak Tarpaulin!"" (sailor lingo). So for a while it seems as if Golding is up to no more than a deft portrait of a decent yet hopeless aristocrat--especially when Edmund dabbles in slapstick cabin sex (""My sword was in my hand and I boarded her! . . . The bookshelf tilted. Moll Flanders lay open on the deck, Gil Blas fell on her. . .""). But then Colley, the dreadful parson, begins acting quite bizarrely: dressing in sacramental robes, appearing drunk and incontinent, then taking to his bed--apparently, mysteriously catatonic. So the question of Edmund's proper behavior in this situation soon becomes central: a low-born officer urges him to visit the scorned clergyman (""You have exercised the privileges of your position. I am asking you to shoulder its responsibilities""); Edmund even attempts to persuade the tyrannical captain to help Colley (whom the captain detests). And this strange matter of responsibility is an interestingly fine-pointed one, intersecting nicely with Edmund's increasing awareness of his tunnel-visioned class-consciousness. But Golding then ditches these subtleties for a sudden dose of religious madness and sexual obsession in parallel (a Golding hallmark): Edmund learns (from a hysterical confession written by the parson just before catatonia came on) that Colley was deranged, that his downfall came because of taunting by the crew, because of his own surrender to homosexual lust: ""Colley committed the fellatio that the poor fool was to die of when he remembered it."" Presumably this revelation (that ""Men can die of shame"") is the culmination of Edmund's humanizing rite of passage. In fact, however, it seems only a melodramatic device here, destroying the delicate tensions that have gone before. And one ends up distracted from (and not quite believing in) Edmund's supposed transformation. An imperfect construct, then, with those odd, ultimately awkward shifts of tone--but much of it is beautifully poised between comedy and dread, and nearly all of it is splendidly, elegantly phrased. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1979
Offshore
 Penelope Fitzgerald
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A quietly spirited little novel about people living on the edge (and at the end) of things: winner of the Booker Prize when it was published in England in 1979. (Fitzgerald is author of Innocence--1987--and the nonfiction The Knox Brothers--1978.) Nenna James, 32, is center of attention here as she raises her two young and precociously observant daughters aboard the Grace, a derelict barge-cum-houseboat anchored on the tumbledown shore of the Thames at Battersea, London. The time is 1962, and others live around Nenna, on assorted barges of their own, holding together their marginal and sea-touched lives: Willis, the aging marine artist whose barge Dreadnaught sinks; crisp and kindhearted ex-officer of the Royal Navy, Richard Blake, who lives on Lord Jim and whose marriage (like Nenna's) is on the rocks; and Nenna's friend and confidant, the gay prostitute Maurice, whose barge Maurice is used as a depository for stolen goods by a cruel villain who later does passing damage. As for events: Nenna is separated from her husband, who, upon returning from temporary employment in South America, is disapproving and appalled to find Nenna living on the river; he leaves her and the two girls there, removing himself to a far and land-locked corner of London. Nenna's attempt to reawaken his love (she makes a journey to visit him) turns out to succeed, but his slowness of response proves disastrous: by the time he makes his way to Grace to find Nenna and the girls, they've gone ashore, soon to be escorted off to a morally bracing life in Canada by Nenna's proper, well-off, and assertive sister Louise. At the wondrously-done end: a dark storm howls up the Thames, tearing a not-quite deserted barge from its moorings. One thinks of Joyce Cary's Gully Jimson in the tender but unpretentious Nenna, her old-before-their-time but never saccharine daughters, and in the glory-faded poetry of the historic river itself, ""bearded with the white foam of detergents, calling home the twenty-seven lost rivers of London. . ."" In all, a small and very bright treasure. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1978
The Sea, the Sea
 Iris Murdoch
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. There is a faint smell of fire and brimstone when something of the past comes tearing to the surface vivid and complete."" So says 60-ish Charles--famed theater personality, an egotist who gives exquisite attention to life's small pleasures, and somewhat of a stinker--who is now a recluse in a curious old house on a wild English promontory breasting the sea. But obscenely arising from Charles' clean sea is a sea monster (an LSD trip rerun?), and there are other spectral matters hinting of demons abroad, as Charles ruminates his past, from a childhood Eden wriggling with jealousies and envy to an adulthood dotted incidentally with women. The older woman he did really love, now dead, partner in shuttlecock rounds of rows and reunions. Ferocious Rosina, whom Charles levered away from her husband, then refused to marry. And slavish Lizzie, always the good little girl for the asking. These women, among others, Charles niched in order of utility. But one relationship was on a different, pure plane. Hartley, ah Hartley, ""My first love and. . . my only love. . . my end and my beginning."" Hartley, when they were both young, refused Charles to marry another--and disappeared. Now, 40 years later, when Charles' world is about to quake, Hartley reappears, ""a stout, elderly woman. . . holding a shopping bag."" Charles, repossessed by a love that is ""absolute,"" sets out to shake Hartley from her husband in their tea-cosy cottage, with feverish avowals and labyrinthine scheming. Hartley sobs and rages within this vise of adoration, and a motley crew of Charles' ""friends"" attempts to head off Charles' manic pursuit. But there's a wind change as a young man is drowned, and Rosina's ex-husband makes an admirably forthright attempt to dispatch Charles. Then storms subside in criss-cross ripples of new unions and new bafflements. Although the metaphysical games can snarl a bit, this bright play with the demons that we unleash on one another is entertainment both sly and tantalizing. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1977
Staying On
Book Jacket   Paul Scott
1976
Saville
Book Jacket   David Storey
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Here is a new novel of Dickensian scope and Flaubertian restraint that one reads with the instant trust and total commitment usually inspired only by ""the classics."" On page one, the late-1930s newlywed Savilles arrive in a Yorkshire mining village and begin to make a home out of a shack. By page two or three, the contemporary reader's contemporary demands--for novelty, quick action, easy relevance--dissolve, and the most familiar, unsensational, elemental materials are renewed and made riveting. The Savilles' first child dies. War is declared. Mr. Saville builds a bomb shelter from scavenged scraps--it is flooded with the first rain. (As in his plays, Storey has a fascinated, fascinating way with descriptions of manual labor.) Three more sons are born, but the parents' hopes center on the oldest, Colin. Through education, he will escape and rescue them from the stove-less, daily drudgery, from the sixteen-hour days in the mine. First day at school. Studying--tutored by his father, who must half-learn along with him. Examinations. Rugby--his father cheers crudely at matches, attracts attention. Neighbors. Teachers--they detect a strain of daydreaming, of insolence, but recommend the university. (Economics demand a teacher's college instead.) Summer farmwork. The death of grandparents. His mother's illnesses. Friends--moneyed Stafford, oafish Bletchley, degenerate Reagan. First love, won away by Stafford. And, with the supposed culmination of Colin's work--a job as a teacher, teaching unteachables, living at home, sharing his salary (no bigger than his father's), paying back for the years of family sacrifice--comes anger, confusion, and envy of his bovine brother, who, resisting all tutoring, is resigned to the mine. Colin's rage is a breath-holding surprise because Storey writes the way life is lived, from moment to moment, with the quiet accumulation of unconscious questions, hopes, hurts, and resentments. He never directs our allegiances, never arranges events for effect, never pulls heartstrings or any other kind of strings. The facts are precisely, honestly placed on the page. The feelings that they evoke, spared the prosiness of print, take shape in the heart. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1975
Heat and Dust
 Nadine Gordimer
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Jhabvala's eighth novel intertwines two stories of two Indias over half a century, and what the book is really about is the social sea change that separates the lifestyle of the narrator, as recorded in her journal, from that of her grandfather's first wife, Olivia, whose story the modern heroine is pursuing through the old letters she carries with her. Olivia comes to India as a young administrator's bride in 1923. Isolated and bored in her European-style bower, she drifts into an affair with a charming but bankrupt prince and after aborting his child, remains in a mountain exile alone there for the rest of her life. Olivia's story is swoony and fatalistic, overpowering as the heat and the dust, but although her inheritor's account has certain parallels, the comedown into contemporary mores and morals makes plain the trade-off that progress has entailed. Instead of a dashing husband, she has an encounter with one of those exploitative nirvana-seekers--this one with a flat Midlands accent that makes his prayer ludicrous. No prince for her either: she becomes pregnant by a meek clerk. Unlike Olivia, she lives amid the lepers, cripples and beggars that populate the streets. The splendor that was has all decayed, and one can't help feeling nostalgic for the Olivias--weak, rotten Olivia destroyed by the exotic East--in comparison to the efficient young woman of today, with her sleeping bag, her rented spaces and rented lovers. An impressive juxtaposition. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1974
The Conservationist
 Nadine Gordimer
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A novel with the same carefully exhaled quality of Gordimer's short stories -- less like storytelling than a conceptual painting. Visualize a symbolic black corpse posted at either end like the pillars of hell, and in between an expanse of bleached grasses and baked, repetitive hills -- the terrain of a white South African's consciousness. Mehring is a successful Johannesburger who has acquired a farm, whether for trysts with a radical woman, or as a tax write-off, or to indulge a common fantasy -- it doesn't matter. The woman has fled the country and the fiscal motive was never more than a cover for sexual pragmatism, and as for his weekend communion with the land, it is only the affinity of one brute nature for another. Mehring's cynicism allows him to be an honest conservative but precludes all human attachment. The political status quo, the veld, himself are locked into a single system of inertias which Gordimer prophecies shall suffer under one law, verified here by a post-diluvian vision and a judgment. . . . Instead of direct narrative and interpretation, there is a density of implication which makes for resistant reading but which nonetheless demonstrates, once again and beyond question, Gordimer's art. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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  Book Jacket
 
1974
Holiday
Book Jacket   Stanley Middleton
1973
The Seige of Krishnapur
Book Jacket   J G Farrell
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. An isolated British garrison falls prey to the 1857 Sepoy rebellion. The native Indian mutineers never really figure in this semicomic tapestry of colonial types: the image is rather that of black insects swarming over a white body. (When this literally happens to one Englishwoman her young rescuers are perplexed as to whether her pubic hair is human or verminous -- Farrell's idea of a stout anti-Victorian joke.) The besieged officials sustain a teatime bravado amidst cholera and stench and swelter; their leader is an outside rationalist called the Collector, a derisory, pontificating sponsor of the Queen's Progress. Farrell's refusal to romanticize teeming India is matched by his inability to mount the least of moving insights. Like his characters, he believes in phrenology, tracing the bumps and concavities of a singular time and place without penetrating its humanity. Farrell has an admiring audience in England -- he's a good writer if never able to overcome a certain aridity -- as in the earlier novels Troubles and A Girl in the Head. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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1972
G
 John Berger
  Book Jacket
1971
In a Free State
 V S Naipaul
  Book Jacket
 
1970
The Elected Member
Book Jacket   Bernice Rubens
1969
Something to Answer For
Book Jacket   P H Newby
 

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