Deft, light, observant, and very funny indeed.




English scriptwriter and story-maker Bennett (The Clothes They Stood Up In, 2001; The Madness of George III) offers three stories about the foibles of being human.

At novella length (almost 100 pages), “The Laying On of Hands” opens with the unlikely prospect for humor of a memorial service in a London church. It’s being held for the handsome Clive Dunlop, dead at 34, by profession a masseur to the rich and famous (and the not so rich and famous). Cause of death? All suppose it to have been AIDS, a fact that for most of those gathered to mourn and remember Clive is a cause for secret and acute anxiety, since the affable Clive’s “professional” net was cast very, very wide. Imagine the relief of all assembled when they discover—during reminiscences about Clive that are invited by the liberal-minded clergyman who’s officiating—that the death wasn’t from that at all, but from an insect bite. People’s relief at such good news can be imagined—and Bennett imagines it with drollery and panache. “Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet” is a slighter—and shorter—affair, about the unconventional but salutary relationship that emerges between a woman and her foot doctor. “Father! Father! Burning Bright,” however, brings Bennett to top form again. While his own father was a plumber and man of the earth, Midgely went to university and became a teacher—and always suffered great unease and resentment, feeling he could never live up to whatever son’s duty was expected of him (a syndrome that hasn’t helped his marriage, by the way). Now that Father has had a sudden stroke and is catatonic, though, the least Midgely can do, what he should do, is be there with his father through the end. So he waits dutifully, for days, at the hospital—only once again, hilariously, to be outfoxed by his fate.

Deft, light, observant, and very funny indeed.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-29051-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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