O’Hagan’s accomplished prose and casual wit counterbalance his abstraction, aided by fine character portraits, especially...

BE NEAR ME

An impeccably crafted, philosophically framed account of the decline and disgrace of an impressionable Catholic priest.

U.K. author O’Hagan (Personality, 2003, etc.) turns to questions of insight in a beautiful but ruined 21st-century landscape. The protagonist, father David Anderton, is a 56-year-old, half-English, half-Scottish intellectual and aesthete whose tastes for Chopin, Proust and French cuisine sit uneasily with his Scottish parishioners, a wasteland of alcoholic men and dehumanized youth. Anderton, whose claim to have tasted the fullness of life rests on a gay relationship with a political firebrand during the 1960s, has a weakness for stronger personalities, and now falls in with a charismatic teenage trouble-maker, 15-year-old Mark McNulty, who leads the priest into tolerating, then sampling, drugs, and eventually to a stolen kiss. Arrest and criminal charges of sexual abuse follow, forcing Anderton to review his life in the church—“a beautiful hiding place” of increasing appeal after his lover’s early death. O’Hagan deftly juxtaposes absurdly precious scenes of Oxford elitism with a harsh vision of the Scottish provinces, where the working class, now all but irrelevant, has sunk into an existence shaped by booze, mass culture, tribalism and media-fuelled prejudice, as evidenced by the modern witch-hunt that ensues. After Anderton’s trial and conviction comes a coda in which the death, from cancer, of his housekeeper—who doubled as his conscience—opens up an assessment of the nature of love and individual integrity.

O’Hagan’s accomplished prose and casual wit counterbalance his abstraction, aided by fine character portraits, especially that of an intellectually acute but isolated soul condemned by his own fallibility.

Pub Date: June 4, 2007

ISBN: 0-15-101303-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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Constructed with delicacy, lyricism, and care, Hertmans’ novel still feels occasionally static.

THE CONVERT

A Christian woman and a Jewish man fall in love in medieval France.

In 1088, a Christian girl of Norman descent falls in love with the son of a rabbi. They run away together, to disastrous effect: Her father sends knights after them, and though they flee to a small southern village where they spend a few happy years, their budding family is soon decimated by a violent wave of First Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem. The girl, whose name becomes Hamoutal when she converts to Judaism, winds up roaming the world. Hertmans’ (War and Turpentine, 2016, etc.) latest novel is based on a true story: The Cairo Genizah, a trove of medieval manuscripts preserved in an Egyptian synagogue, contained an account of Hamoutal’s plight. Hamoutal makes up about half of Hertmans’ novel; the other half is consumed by Hertmans’ own interest in her story. Whenever he can, he follows her journey: from Rouen, where she grew up, to Monieux, where she and David Todros—her Jewish husband—made a brief life for themselves, and all the way to Cairo, and back. “Knowing her life story and its tragic end,” Hertmans writes, “I wish I could warn her of what lies ahead.” The book has a quiet intimacy to it, and in his descriptions of landscape and travel, Hertmans’ prose is frequently lovely. In Narbonne, where David’s family lived, Hertmans describes “the cool of the paving stones in the late morning, the sound of doves’ wings flapping in the immaculate air.” But despite the drama of Hamoutal’s story, there is a static quality to the book, particularly in the sections where Hertmans describes his own travels. It’s an odd contradiction: Hertmans himself moves quickly through the world, but his book doesn’t quite move quickly enough.

Constructed with delicacy, lyricism, and care, Hertmans’ novel still feels occasionally static.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4708-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Nevo is a funny, engaging writer, but his new book settles for cleverness without reaching for something more genuinely...

THREE FLOORS UP

Three residents of an Israeli apartment building narrate their worries and woes.

Nevo (Neuland, 2014, etc.) is a bestselling Israeli author, and his most recent book to be translated into English makes it easy to understand why. His writing is compelling—actually, it’s compulsively readable, as the cliché goes. This novel takes place in a suburb outside Tel Aviv, an area one character labels “bourgeoisville.” It is split along three narrative lines, each corresponding to a character who lives on one of three floors in the same apartment building. On the first floor, there is Arnon, a father who grows obsessed by the idea that his young daughter may have been molested. On the second floor is Hani, a mother and a wife whose husband is always away on business. Devora, a retired judge, lives on the third floor; her husband has died, her son is estranged, and she must build a new life for herself. Nevo uses Devora to remind us, not so subtly, that these three characters match up rather neatly to Freud’s model of consciousness: Nevo has given us the id, the ego, and the superego, all in one novel. Fine; but though we’re drawn in by each of these characters and their various troubles and travails, in the end we’re left wanting. Sure, the stories are engaging (Arnon, Hani, and Devora each speak directly to a different “you”), but the book as a whole doesn’t satisfy. “Do you understand?” the characters say, again and again. “Can you understand?” Yes, of course, you’ll want to respond; but so what?

Nevo is a funny, engaging writer, but his new book settles for cleverness without reaching for something more genuinely moving.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59051-878-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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