Combining what he calls ``the amenities of a novel with the variety of a story collection,'' Scottish author Gray (Lanark, The Fall of Kelvin Walker) presents a witty, if uneven, tale of four women brought together by ``something leather.'' Set mostly in Glasgow, at a time when the city is poised for urban renewal, the vignettes here concern the past lives of the four women. There is June, the cool divorcÇe whose only pleasure seems to be dressing well. Wanting something in leather for a change, June is introduced to Donalda and Senga, whose little leather business offers a lot more than designer clothes. Products of the Glasgow slums, Donalda and Senga have children, but the men they've lived with have never been all that satisfying. And then there is Harry Shepherd, a wealthy woman, related to royalty, whose family sent her off (at the age of five) to a very permissive boarding school in England when they discovered that her nanny had been beating her. But the nanny was the only person poor Harry had loved, and it is a long while before Harry finds a successor. It is also at this school that the reclusive Harry began to create the sculptures that were to make her famous and even richerrich enough to bankroll a leather shop to cater to all her desires, however extravagant or bizarre. Brought together at the end, the four women indulge in some kinky lesbian sex, and eachin her own wayfinds a degree of fulfillment. Gray, a lively and intelligent writer, uses the somewhat contrived plot as an excuse to get in a great many telling digs at contemporary politics, art, education, and society. But the sum, unfortunately, is not equal to the often very good parts.

Pub Date: June 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-394-58963-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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