Funny, humane, and sympathetic to the silly creatures we humans are. The Dalai Lama himself would probably approve.


Ever goofy, ever surreal French novelist Volodine (Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, 2015, etc.) rewrites the rules of Tibetan Buddhism, using characters that might have been drafted from the second string of Waiting for Godot.

Bardo, as Laurie Anderson’s recent film Heart of a Dog reminds us, is a kind of limbo where the dead await reincarnation for seven weeks, a place where nothing much happens while the soul gathers its wits and chooses its next earthly vehicle. Volodine turns this on its head: plenty happens, even if the departed can’t quite suss it out. “The Bardo,” says one Babloïev by way of helpful explanation to the recently dead Glouchenko. “The intermediary world. We’re going to float and walk around here for forty-nine days.” Unimpressed, Glouchenko, apparently a devotee of slang, replies, “Cut the crap. You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you can just jerk me around.” It turns out, as another intermediary, Mario Schmunk, notes, that poor Glouchenko has been dead for four weeks and, thick as he is, still hasn’t gotten around to realizing it, prompting a mysterious voice to cut through the fog: “It is high time that you liberate yourself, Glouchenko! Make an effort, Glouchenko!” Glouchenko is not an effortful fellow, though, which may just get him reborn as a monkey. Neither are some of the other denizens of the Bardo, some of whom take Bardo as an excuse to have a nice nap. In this vignette-layered novel, Volodine explores a fruitful premise throughout, namely, that if some of our lives are thoughtlessly lived and some of our deaths downright embarrassing, why should not death be thoughtless and shameface-making? Just ask Big Grümscher and Little Blumschi, “the kings of laughter,” clowns who aren’t laughing so much now that the monks are shouting out sutras from the Book of the Dead….

Funny, humane, and sympathetic to the silly creatures we humans are. The Dalai Lama himself would probably approve.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940953-33-5

Page Count: 165

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 19

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?