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BRIEF LIVES

``The late afternoon is my bad time, when the light goes. I get nervous then, and long for someone to come.'' Fay Langdon is looking back on a life of emotional desolation, in Brookner's most powerful novel yet. Fay's story is in essence a simple one: an attractive, talented, self-supporting but unworldly young woman, with a trusting heart formed by a loving home, marries the man of her dreams, and is never happy again. The place is London and the time the late 1940's. Fay's fine singing voice gets her work on the radio, but on marrying lawyer Owen Langdon she agrees to abandon her career and become a housewife and hostess at dinner- parties for Owen's rich clients. At one of these she meets Julia, wife of Owen's senior partner Charlie, and a former cabaret star, now dependent for an audience on a small circle of adoring women (this is Julia's story, too). By now Fay has realized she has married a man terrified of intimacy; money and social connection are the touchstones in a coldhearted world of pretense. Nor is Julia's circle, to which Fay has been admitted, any kind of refuge, for the actress is a creature of infinite malice, who delights in tormenting her coterie; only Fay's weak sense of self keeps her in thrall. Owen dies in middle age; Fay becomes Charlie's mistress, though hating the deception involved. ``Life had taught me to seek protection, however nugatory.'' Charlie, however, can no more manage intimacy than Owen; then he too dies. And still Fay cannot break free from the monstrous Julia, who wrecks her last chance of male companionship; as old age set in, Fay tries desperately to preserve a facade of dignity. Brookner's portrait of a woman adrift in a comfortless world, where the hourglass never stops running, chills to the bone: it is as harrowing, and as unsparing, as the work of the great Jean Rhys.

Pub Date: June 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-394-58548-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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