A first collection of 18 stories from novelist GÇbler (The Cure, 1994, not reviewed; etc.), writing from Northern Ireland, ranges near and far to provide gritty closeups of life’s less-distinguished moments, when desperation most overwhelms. The title piece presents an elderly ÇmigrÇ couple in London who are all but consumed by guilt at their only son’s suicide a few years earlier. Their inability to release their sadness by acknowledging a share of the blame is finally ended when the son’s widow stops by to tell them she’s remarrying. This is about as cheery as these stricken tales get. The opener, “The Chekhov Student,” is more typically lugubrious. It presents another elderly couple, unhappily married for decades, whose moment of enlightenment comes when the meek husband (—My name is Douglas Peter. . . I am extremely miserable. . . . I need to describe the troubles of my life—), having stood up at last to his spouse in one of their rows, concludes on reflection that he’s about to die. “Puerto Vallarta,”set in that Mexican resort, centers on a deranged, child-chomping Rottweiler, whose spectacular electrocution in a violent storm (as it gnaws on a pilfered chicken) is greeted with cheers by the neighbors. “Four Pesos,” which takes place in a Cuban coastal town, concerns a petty but disastrous betrayal by a Canadian tourist, on holiday to forget her just-failed marriage, who agrees to buy forbidden goods from the tourists-only store for the maid who cleans her room, then turns her in when the woman comes up a few pesos short in their exchange. The message here, “It’s a grim world, after all,” albeit precisely rendered, at the same time suffers from too narrow a focus on the bruised or broken marriage theme: tellingly, the one suggestion of a joyous union, between a journalist and the daughter of the landed gentry he’s interviewing (“A Short Story”), comes across as utterly fatuous.

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7145-3035-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Marion Boyars

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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