World-weariness tinged with tragedy speeds a bourgeois Jewish youth in Amsterdam merrily down the road to ruin in a frank but rather bloodless debut. Author Grunberg, a high-school dropout, was 22 when this was first published in 1994 in the Netherlands. Naming his teenage narrator for himself, Ö la Philip Roth, Grunberg places him in as dysfunctional a household and as depressing a school system as can be imagined: His father is a hard-drinking, ailing man of shadowy means, his mother a Holocaust survivor prone to dish-smashing rages, his teachers either drunk, discipline-happy, or self-righteous samaritans. Dropping out, Arnon finds part-time office work, while his father, incapacitated by a stroke, wastes away slowly but surely; at his death he seems to have bequeathed his alcoholism to his only son. Living on his own but unable to keep a job, and traumatized by a few encounters with female classmates—including one in which he's abused by a pair of heavyweight witches—the young man frequents bars and cafes. In time, however, his loneliness and desperation make him turn to an escort service. An endless succession of prostitutes later, he is entirely numb to the process of sex but unable to break the habit, even when faced with the end of his money. And so he takes the advice offered by one of the call girls and signs on with an escort service himself, thereby giving his penchant for self-degradation free rein. The hero's swift downward spiral, though precisely and persuasively rendered, holds few surprises, while his severely unrelenting distance from all that affects him limits the reader's own level of engagement. Still, spare prose and precise portraits of disaffected characters offer clear promise of stronger work to come.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-11485-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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