EMMA

A MODERN RETELLING

In less capable hands, it could all seem clunky and crass. Instead, McCall Smith has written a delightfully droll,...

In the latest installment of the Austen Project, McCall Smith (The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe, 2014, etc.) catapults snobbish matchmaker Emma Woodhouse into the 21st century.

His latter-day Emma possesses all the youth and beauty and a good deal of the wit of Jane Austen’s heroine. She also shares her predecessor’s less appealing qualities. Bossy and controlling as a child, she's only more so now that she's 22 and bent on launching her own interior design consultancy. In creating Emma, Austen supposedly set about depicting a character that nobody but she would like very much. McCall Smith paints a similarly challenging if ultimately fond portrait of a young woman whose hubris causes complete chaos before she’s forced to acquire some humility and self-knowledge. Devotees of the original will recognize the likes of Miss Taylor, the no-nonsense governess who all but raises Emma and her sister after they lose their mother, and George Knightley, Emma’s friend and the only person brave enough to challenge her. Mr. Woodhouse, Emma’s father, has evolved from a “valetudinarian” into a germaphobe crank, though to get around questions of how he manages the upkeep on their country pile, McCall Smith also makes him a retired inventor who years earlier patented a valve for the liquid-nitrogen cylinders used by dermatologists. Modernity is mischievously accommodated elsewhere, too: The flashy young vicar’s nouveau riche wife is recast as a TV talent show contestant, while dim, pretty Harriet Smith, the illegitimate product of an affair in Austen’s telling, here becomes the progeny of a single mother and a sperm donor. Emma even finds herself questioning her sexuality.

In less capable hands, it could all seem clunky and crass. Instead, McCall Smith has written a delightfully droll, thoughtful novel that reflects on money’s enduring role in relationships as well as on the nature of this meddlesome heroine’s long-lived appeal.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-804-19795-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

Categories:

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 29


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 29


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Categories:

MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

Categories:
Close Quickview