A compassionate masterpiece.

ISOBEL ON THE WAY TO THE CORNER SHOP

Isobel Callaghan, a struggling young writer with a difficult past, collapses on the way to buy provisions at the corner store and soon finds herself—much to her surprise—recovering from tuberculosis in the self-contained society of Mornington Sanatorium.

Australian writer Witting's (I is for Isobel, 1989, etc.) quietly brilliant novel was published in her own country in 1999 and is appearing in the U.S. for the first time; it's set in the middle of the 20th century. Anxious, poor, and isolated, Isobel is worried she’s losing her mind. She’s quit her job (translating German mail at an importers) in a rage and, buoyed by the encouragement of a highbrow editor, has taken an attic room in a Sydney boardinghouse to write fiction. Now, overridden by social anxiety and rapidly running out of money, Isobel has begun to deteriorate in a way she doesn’t understand. Upon collapsing in the street, she’s taken to a local hospital; her madness, it seems, is better known as tuberculosis. “How could she explain the relief she felt at learning that this thing had a name and a location, that there were people whose business it was to deal with it?” she wonders. Surrendered to her new circumstances—a material improvement, all things considered—Isobel finds herself falling into the sanatorium’s rhythms. Though the patients are all bedridden, to varying degrees, the place has a social scene of its own, with the doctors, nurses, and patients forming a parallel universe outside of space and time. Witting’s characterizations are staggeringly sharp—it is hard to imagine a novel more keenly observed—simultaneously heartbreaking and (subtly) hilarious, not because they're exaggerated, but because they are so unsettlingly, overwhelmingly true: Isobel's pathologically self-centered roommate (“You’re not one of those people who read all the time, are you?”); her beloved Dr. Wang; the birdlike Miss Landers, who runs the sanatorium’s knitting-based occupational therapy program. But as Isobel recovers, she must come to terms with her life outside the confines of this miniature world—and here, too, Witting is as astute and unsentimental as ever.

A compassionate masterpiece.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-922182-71-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Text

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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