Using the sensitivity to the decay of English society acclaimed in his first novel (PIG, 1996), Cowan offers a companion view: This time, he offers the tale of a young couple facing parenthood in a crumbling house on a rough street in a city where urban blight holds particular menace for a grove of ancient trees on the Common. Ashley and Jay aren't married, but they've lived together long enough to buy a house and to feel at ease with the decision to go through with Jay's pregnancy. Ashley hates his teaching job anyway and is quite willing to share childrearing duties by shifting to half-time work. Jay cuts back at her job, too, but finds it harder to give up her part in the increasingly desperate protests of a group trying to stop a long-planned bypass road from going through the forest on the Common—especially since her activist sister has already become deeply involved. Being thrust into parenthood comes as a rude awakening for both Jay and Ashley, as Ashley chronicles in his frequent letters to a brother who's been trekking around the world in search of himself. Part of Ashley wishes he also were trekking, but, later, another part of him revels in the domestic bliss of watching his new daughter Maggie grow. Eventually, his decision to quit teaching altogether in order to let Jay go back to work full-time seems the right thing to do, and when he finally drops his opposition to her joining fully in the fight against the road (now escalated to an encampment in the trees and physical clashes), Ashley takes his own large step down a road offering answers to the nagging questions in his life. Not as poignant as PIG, but a more comprehensive appraisal of the fissures running deep and long through English life—from intimate family matters on through those of the larger community, and touching issues of personal identity as well as those of a nation.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-100265-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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