LITTLE MASTERS by Damien Wilkins


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 A meandering account of life among disaffected expatriates that ultimately overstays its visa: a second novel from New Zealander Wilkins (The Miserables, 1993) All the usual confusions that plague young people are prominent among Wilkins's brood, none of whom seems much more adult than the children who have somehow fallen into their care. Adrian Jankowiecz, a university dropout living on the lam in London, finds himself suddenly responsible for the upbringing of his unknown son Daniel when his mother dies and the boy is sent from New Zealand to the custody of his father in England. Adrian, without work, money, or prospects of any kind, takes Daniel to live with him in a squat in Southwark, manages, despite his lack of capital, to put him in a private school, and eventually lands a job in publishing. His boss, a genial incompetent named Timothy Clover, is usually out of town, and the neurotic Mrs. Clover relies upon her nanny Sarah to help take up the slack with the couple's children. Through the nanny network, Sarah becomes friends with Emily, another New Zealander, who looks after the daughter of an American woman in London, and through the Clovers they all get to Adrian and Daniel. We learn a lot about everyone's pasts and their families--Adrian's people were Polish refugees who survived Russian labor camps and escaped to New Zealand, and Timothy Clover is a ne'er-do-well son who has been set up in publishing by embarrassed relatives--but there is an odd absence at the center of the tale. All of the dramas that lie submerged within the plot--Adrian's hapless lethargy, Mrs. Clover's tightly coiled discontent, Daniel's helplessness--come back again and again to the surface but are never fully developed or explained, leaving the narrative seeming rather haphazard and, ultimately, aimless. Rich with shading and detail, but too loosely organized for its own good: a crowded canvas that badly wants some focal point.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-4951-7
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997


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