PORTUGUESE IRREGULAR VERBS

Like these lovable antiheroes of the past, von Igelfeld remains a gentle figure who deserves every cartoon anvil that falls...

First in the three cycles of stories introducing quietly hapless Prof. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, of the Institute of Romance Philology.

“All I want is love,” dolefully reflects the author of that standard but slow-selling reference work, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, “and a tiny bit of recognition from the Portuguese.” What he gets instead is a series of eight little adventures that add up to a life of quiet desperation. Sidelined from his original interest in Early Irish by his landlady’s horror at discovering a German translation of the off-color remarks a surviving speaker of Early Irish shared with him, he settles into a chair at Regensburg. Although he ventures as far afield as Italy and India, von Igelfeld remains as predictable in his habits and as impervious to the outside world as Kant. Supported by his colleagues, the unfortunately named Prof. Dr. Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer and Prof. Dr. Dr. (honoris causa) Florianus Prinzel, who looks like an athlete but isn’t, he plays tennis after spending an hour with a rulebook, recalls a foreshortened duel that ended with a foreshortened nose, attempts to disprove a xenophobic Sienese landlady’s claims that Germans eat too much, falls in love with his dentist, and turns himself radioactive. Trudging stoutly from one academic conference to the next, von Igelfeld recalls the great 19th-century comedies of minutiae inflated to monstrous proportions, though he’s less majestic than Mr. Pickwick and less fiercely stupid than Bouvard and Pécuchet. Perhaps the closest analogy is Mr. Pooter, the office drudge of George and Weedon Grossmith’s Diary of a Nobody, whose indulgently satiric tone Smith faithfully reproduces.

Like these lovable antiheroes of the past, von Igelfeld remains a gentle figure who deserves every cartoon anvil that falls on his head but retains his dignity and goodness throughout. (Illus. throughout with b&w block prints)

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-7708-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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

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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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