A DEAD MAN IN DEPTFORD

In a daring romp through history, theology, sex, language, and espionage, the late Burgess (A Mouthful of Air, 1993, etc.) contrives a disarmingly realistic literary thriller with an unlikely sybarite as its hero. The dead man of the title is none other than the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe (or, as Burgess indicates, Merlin or Marlin — last names were more capriciously assigned in the 16th century), who may or may not have been murdered in a Deptford tavern brawl in 1593. The author of Tamburlaine the Great, Doctor Faustus, and The Jew of Malta has always languished, somewhat unfairly, in Shakespeare's shadow, but Burgess manages to restore a lot of spice to "Kit" Marlowe's reputation. The playwright's homosexuality has been adequately documented, and Burgess knows few scruples in reimagining the blend of ribald glee and illicit melancholy that Kit and his various boyfriends bring to the higher sodomy. He also offers glimpses of their strained, early-modern morals, which emerge from intellectual skirmishes between rote Christian irrationality and pagan Greek and Latin erudition. Though history says little about it, Marlowe may also have done some spying for Protestant Queen Elizabeth, who during her reign was besieged from France, Spain, and Scotland by the Catholic menace — at any rate, Burgess takes the conceit and runs with it, smuggling the young playwright across the English Channel and up to the Highlands on missions to thwart Elizabeth's scheming usurpers. Along the way, Marlowe learns to smoke from Sir Walter Raleigh, helps Shakespeare get started on Henry VI, Part One, and still finds time to crank out his plays while courting fame, if not wealth. Burgess has mastered, as perhaps only he could, the arch, quasi-poetic diction of the period, along with a welter of details, from clothes to cuisine to the inescapable tyranny that religious elites wielded over everyday life. A fitting final tribute from one great English writer to the genius of another.

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-7867-0192-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995

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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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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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