Less psychologically sophisticated than the granddaddy of all Roman historical fiction, Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, but a...

EMPEROR

THE FIELD OF SWORDS

Gaius Julius Caesar is back in the third of Iggulden’s projected tetralogy (Emperor: The Death of Kings, 2004, etc.), and he’s kicking Gallic butt and taking unpronounceable names.

It’s midpoint in the first century b.c. Having ranged widely throughout the eastern stretches of the Roman Empire, having put down slave revolts and attempted coups, having come and seen and conquered much of the known world, Caesar is still far from Rome, where fellow triumvirs Pompey and Crassus are enjoying Falernian wine and the other delicacies of the capital. Caesar has work to do, though, before he can join in the fun: when this installment opens, he’s in Spain among men who, unaccountably, bear modern Spanish names, but soon he’s in the field battling rebellious Romans and then off to the north to attend to successive swarms of Germanic and Celtic warriors, all with points of their own to prove. Iggulden has read Caesar’s Gallic Warscarefully, and most of the particulars here are supported, or at least hinted at, by the soon-to-be capo, who had the uncommon virtue of self-criticism and a good eye for detail. Where Iggulden really shines, though, is in putting flesh on historical bones and reading between the lines, providing, along the way, motives for old Brutus to be ticked off, not least of them a few costly tactical errors: “Brutus looked over the heads of his men, his heart pounding with anger. If he survived the retreat, he swore Julius would pay for the destruction of the Tenth.” Brutus holds his anger in check, however, and he and his fellow soldiers have many a merry day slaughtering everything they see; think of the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, and you’ll have a good idea of the tenor of Iggulden’s expertly rendered—and unfailingly exciting—battles.

Less psychologically sophisticated than the granddaddy of all Roman historical fiction, Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, but a pleasure for those for whom the words “alea jacta est” mean something.

Pub Date: March 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-385-33663-2

Page Count: 467

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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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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