While her language is as beautifully precise and insightful as ever, Brookner’s reticence is too much like Zoë’s. She holds...

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THE BAY OF ANGELS

The prolific Brookner (Undue Influence, 2000, etc.) marries subject and style in this slight novel about a woman of stoic rectitude who measures her success in life by her ability to adapt and make do.

Zoë grows up in contented isolation with her widowed mother until she is 16, when her mother, perhaps less content, marries the kindly but domineering Simon, who whisks Zoë’s mother away to a villa in southern France. He provides generously for Zoë, but though she is invited to spend as much time as she likes in France, she prefers life in her own flat. Living alone, she graduates from college, begins the perfect bloodless career as researcher, and has an on-again-off-again affair with a not very nice young man. When he dumps her for good, she does not let herself grieve openly. And while she mentions having friends, none are visible or even imaginable. She accepts her lonely life as perfectly adequate. Then her stepfather dies, practically penniless as it turns out, and her mother sinks into a vague, languorous illness. Zoë spends the rest of the story and her meager finances going back and forth between England and France, finalizing the estate and visiting her mother, first in the hospital and then at a rest home run by nuns. She develops a prickly but affection-flecked connection with her mother’s doctor, an episode as close to romantic love as Zoë is likely to get. After her mother inevitably fades away and dies, Zoë finds a compromise between the safe detachment of her London life and the slightly more emotionally charged experience France affords.

While her language is as beautifully precise and insightful as ever, Brookner’s reticence is too much like Zoë’s. She holds her characters, including Zoë, at such a distance that they never become interesting in a novel so understated that it ends up undercooked as well.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50582-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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