Six rather arbitrarily linked stories (which allegedly explore various “extremes and polarities”) from the rococo stylist whose best fiction includes Booker Prize—winning Possession (1990) and the (rather similar) story collection The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye (1997). Exotic locales and almost oppressively lush imagery dominate even such slight fictions as “Baglady” (set in a vast shopping mall in the “Far East” and redolent, if not reeking, of Muriel Spark); “Jael” (which employs the biblical Apocryphal story of Jael and Sisera to explain a moody commercial artist’s tendency “to rejoice in wickedness”; and “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” a witty parable in which an insubordinate cook is taught by a young artist to cherish even the evanescent glories of her own “Creation.” More interesting, and more precisely built on defining contrasts, are the longer stories: “A Lamia in the Cevennes,” about an Englishman’s retirement to the French countryside to paint—and to find, in his custom-built outdoor swimming pool, aesthetic and other temptations; and (the unfortunately titled) “Crocodile Tears,” about a suddenly widowed Englishwoman who escapes to the southern French city of Nimes (drenched in artifact-reminders of its past as a Roman outpost), and a transformative acquaintance with a Norwegian tourist whose burden of loss both reflects and mocks her own: it’s a dizzily amusing, oddly seductive tale of cultural and psychological conflict. The best piece is “Cold,” a deliciously imagined fairytale whose heroine, the beautiful princess Fiammarosa, unexpectedly departs the invigorating northern clime where she thrives to marry a prince (and expert glassblower) from a barren desert country. Her life is soon indeed imperilled, but the prince’s creation of an “artificial world” magically preserves her—and their union. This is a brilliant and charming variation on its announced theme, namely that “Love changes people.” An often enchanting further display of Byatt’s fluent style and far-reaching imagination.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-50250-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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