An Oscar-winner for the screenplay to The Killing Fields, Robinson debuts in the novel with the hilarious and engaging story of a working-class British teen growing up in the 1950s. Book’s end will bring explanations for the behavior of all, but at the start a person might well doubt it—when meeting Thomas Penman, for example, nearly 15 but still preoccupying himself with moving his bowels anywhere but on the toilet and wrapping the results in bags for the discovery and delight of others. This is a boy also (when not constructing bombs) who lies, spies, and eavesdrops obsessively—traits possibly inherited from his grandfather, who likes to —[creep] around in the attic with his penis out.— It’s a credit to Robinson’s Chaucerian skills and enormous human sympathies that he magically guides his material along the cliff-edge of slapstick and, without losing the least bit of its comic spirit, transforms it into the humane, subtle, and moving. Near the seacoast in Kent—with a passel of rather vile dogs as well—live Thomas and his sister Bel, their parents Mabs and Rob, and grandparents Walter and Ethel. Rob, tough and built as if of bricks, is a walking fuse of near-rage, while wife Mabs, sleeping on the other side of the house, guards her own secret silence. Dying now of cancer, grandfather Walter somehow survived WWI (his tale is unforgettable) but lost his one true love—a void in his life that gives him a special bond to young Thomas, this being the case for reasons that will grow clear at last as the boy falls in love, searches the past, gets into terrible trouble, thanks in no small part to his weasely friend Maurice and his outrageously stolid and ruinous parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Potts. Love, youth, and satire delivered with the verve and allure of, say, Amis—the real one, that is, not the modernized Martin, but lordly and hilarious Kingsley.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-87951-914-2

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1998

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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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