With little decoration and an easy touch, Prantera offers a charming, if limited, comedy of matured love and virtuous...


Prantera (Letter to Lorenzo, 1999, etc.) gathers a middle-aged cast of characters to enact an amateur version of Mozart’s well-known opera, touching with gentle humor on that work’s themes of the heart’s durable passion in competition with the mortal limits of body and time.

“You’ve only got to think of how people in extreme situations . . . club together to stage an entertainment: it’s not for the spectacle, it’s for those taking part,” one character aptly observes. Set in Italy, the story begins as failing novelist and philosopher Lord Henry Thirsk agrees to stage a benefit production of the opera—partly as a distraction from his own stalled writing career and partly to enthuse a touch of vigor into his 56 year-old life. Gaia, his younger wife, is delighted: even as she carries a thinning hope for his fiction work, she frets that his love for her has declined, thus clouding the possibility that they’ll ever have children. Enter Joanna, an artist and set designer on leave from her tortured marriage to Orso in Rome. Thirsk enrolls her help in painting scenery, and her bright energy kindles his dormant appetite for life. As Joanna fends off phone calls from her unreliable husband, her housekeeper Amabile watches the developing affair with Thirsk and the opera with unjaundiced, simple adoration. With son recently lost in an auto accident, and a daughter-in-law arrested for drug possession, Amabile grounds the whimsical proceedings with commonsensical observations and stout naïveté. While the performance itself is of little narrative concern here, Prantera gently prods her people through the stress of the production, a comical disaster that ironically reseals the bonds pried open and widened as the novel progresses. “Love,” Thirsk muses, “is knowing there’s better, but choosing . . . to stay put.”

With little decoration and an easy touch, Prantera offers a charming, if limited, comedy of matured love and virtuous compromise.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7475-4927-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury UK/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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