High on energetic wordplay if a bit low on substance, this British debut somersaults its characters into the topsy-turvy world of Wonderland. Prim and prissy Celia Small wants to get married. In fact, it has been the primary impulse of her life, dating back to the early entries of her scrapbook, her girlish hand spelling out domestic bliss. Everything has been planned, right down to the pale blue silk of her engagement dress. Only the groom is missing—that last, least predictable aspect—but when mousy Ken proposes, Celia knows her real life can begin. Her engagement party, having been planned so far in advance, should go off without a hitch, but Celia's adolescent outlines didn't take into account her now much hated housemates: gloomy Phoebe and hippie Cath, who's throwing a Wonderland party that not only requires everyone to show up in character but makes them stick to their roles and keep to their lines. A series of small in-laws disasters sends Celia from her room in tears—and down the rabbit hole to Wonderland, where she ingests quite a few psychedelic jam tarts before being mistaken as the Alice of the party. Things get curiouser and curiouser as plotting from the classic comes to life and Celia wanders into her reclusive housemate Dodge's rooms. His odd behavior makes Celia think he secretly loves her, and in his way he does—though what he really wants is to be her. Donning a long blond wig and Celia's dress, Dodge becomes Celia/Alice while Celia rummages through his closet for a new personality, abandoning her engagement party for good. With mistaken identities all around, attempted rapes, murder, and even an appearance by Glenda Jackson, the story hip-hops in and out of chaos as Celia tries to find the real Celia. Clever and imaginative by turns, Habens's debut relies so heavily on allusions and devices that in the end it fails to create any concern for the characters.

Pub Date: March 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-312-14086-X

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1996

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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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