Though the cadences are like those of a fairy tale, a narrative seen through the eyes of a child, the chilling conclusion is...

RAGNAROK

THE END OF THE GODS

A multilayered retelling of the end of the world from Norse mythology, framed by the award-winning British novelist’s analysis of how myth relates to her own work.

This slim volume doesn’t invite comparison with the expansive novels of Byatt (Possession, 1991, etc.). As she explains, “Gods, demons and other actors in myths do not have personalities or characters in the way people in novels do. They do not have psychology.” Yet her narrative strategy recasts the myth through the perception of a reader known only as the “thin child in wartime,” a British girl whose name and age are unknown, who finds resonance in this war of the Gods with the war from which she doesn’t expect her father to return. Byatt invites some identification of this girl with the author by dedicating this book to her own mother, “Who gave me Asgard and the Gods,” a primary source for this retelling. The girl compares the myth of world’s end with the Christian faith into which she was born, and to Pilgrim’s Progress, which she has also been reading. “Bunyan’s tale had a clear message and meaning. Not so, Asgard and the Gods. That book was an account of a mystery, of how a world came together, was filled with magical and powerful beings, and then came to an end. A real End. The end.” The girl doesn’t come to believe in the Norse gods, a worshipper of Odin and Thor, but the reading experience leads the author to the conclusion that “the Christian story was another myth, the same kind of story about the nature of things, but less interesting and exciting.” While the narrative illuminates the essence and meaning of myth, particularly as it shapes a young girl’s wartime experience, it also serves as an environmentalist parable, one where we are “bringing about the end of the world we were born into.”

Though the cadences are like those of a fairy tale, a narrative seen through the eyes of a child, the chilling conclusion is not.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2992-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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