James can be entertaining, and he may stir warm memories of academic satires by Kingsley Amis, Mary McCarthy, or Randall...

THE PRINCIPALS

A debate over erecting statues to honor two British university heads reveals some of the farcical ambitions, bureaucracy, and cant that are found only in academia.

Welsh crime writer James (First Fix Your Alibi, 2016, etc.), known for the Harpur and Iles series, posits two provincial universities in one city with opposing reactions to government austerity in the 1980s. Under the bumptious Lawford Chote, Sedge is millions over budget, while Victor Tane has kept Charter Mill’s finances in line with reality. The story moves back and forth between 1987, when Chote is mulling unrealistic plans to take over the other school, and 2014, when a committee of the schools—which in fact were merged under Tane—is mulling whether statues planned for Chote and Tane should occupy one plinth or two and on which campus they should reside. Readers will simply have to suspend disbelief in the idea that two provincial university principals would deserve statues under any government budget. Some of the humor is rather forced, but the committee meetings are often funny in their deadpan mockery of self-important educators given license to opine. One character is so perfectly absurd it’s hard to read him without having the image of Stephen Fry constantly in mind. Another humorous thread begins with a talk on Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Martin Moss in which he refers to some physical variation by the gamekeeper and the lady with a phrase that manages to arouse Chote’s wife from her snoring, gin-deadened state in the lecture hall’s front row. Principal Chote believes thereafter that Moss is something special, while allusions to his Chatterley trick pepper the novel.

James can be entertaining, and he may stir warm memories of academic satires by Kingsley Amis, Mary McCarthy, or Randall Jarrell, but his effort isn’t up to that pantheon.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7278-8642-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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