Arnaud’s biography provides a useful corrective and will inspire renewed interest in Cocteau’s work.

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JEAN COCTEAU

A LIFE

The first substantial life of the French surrealist writer and artist to appear in English since 1970.

You might not have known that Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) was an angst-y, tormented artist to look at him: he “always tried to put himself forward as happy and detached,” writes French biographer Arnaud (Chamfort: A Biography, 1992), and he had a happy childhood without much drama. Still, as Arnaud remarks, Cocteau wrestled for a long time with his homosexuality, a preference for men that “remained more acted than lived,” no small thing in a time when the law still weighed heavily against same-sex relationships. Arnaud accomplishes several things in this overstuffed life of the writer, artist, and filmmaker. He does much, for example, to correct the emphasis on Cocteau as eccentric artist—he was, after all, a shining light of Dadaism—that comes “to the detriment of the creator.” Focusing closely on Cocteau’s works, Arnaud ventures that he was often at his best as a collaborator, whether encouraging Marcel Proust during the long years of his writing Recherche, even if Proust may have thought of him as “a piece of furniture,” or concocting strange experiments with Pablo Picasso. In the end, Arnaud provides a portrait of a committed, seasoned artist who was, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, a vortex of energy, constantly at work, writing “on invitations, record jackets, cigarette boxes, theater programs, book covers.” If Cocteau was not well-understood in his own time, and often savaged critically, he is unjustly overlooked today. Although, for instance, he was long considered one of the trio of “uncle Jeans” of French film, the others being Renoir and Epstein, many students know him only for Orphée (1950), and although his literary production was steady, he remains known today mostly for his middle-period novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929). Concludes Arnaud, a touch hopefully, “we haven’t yet finished with Cocteau.”

Arnaud’s biography provides a useful corrective and will inspire renewed interest in Cocteau’s work.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-17057-3

Page Count: 1056

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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