Subtle in its psychology, elegantly written, with lively and amusing minor characters—an impressive novel, but one with a...

SPRING

A precise portrait of a blurry affair.

The third novel (and American debut) by the Canadian-born Szalay, one of the Daily Telegraph's Best 20 British Novelists Under 40, is a somewhat cold but nuanced and bracingly intelligent dissection of contemporary London life. James is a 30-something one-time dot-com megamillionaire now reduced to a meager middle-class existence with his dog, and reduced, too, to eking out a living via various iffy schemes, among them a shady business as a horse-racing tipster. Katherine, manager of a luxury hotel, is estranged from her husband, Fraser, an aging paparazzo who strayed with an underwear model, was exiled and now—perhaps a bit too desperately and adoringly for her comfort—wants his wife back. Szalay vivisects the awkward, tentative relationship that develops between Katherine and James, a sporadic companionship-with-benefits that is shadowed and complicated by the possibility of a resumption of her marriage to Fraser. She blows hot and cold, can be remote and enigmatic; he can seem needy and sex-obsessed. But both have appeal, too. James exudes a boyish sweetness and eagerness, and Katherine's hesitation and unreadability have less to do with emotional remoteness or with being a belle dame sans merci than with her genuine grief and confusion about what happened to her marriage. Both lovers are prone to ruthless postmortem examinations of their every encounter, and Szalay provides a sharp and occasionally humorous portrait not only of these two people but of the mores of 21st-century romance among those for whom romance has had its old glamour grubbed up a bit by age, world-weariness and the demands of everyday life.

Subtle in its psychology, elegantly written, with lively and amusing minor characters—an impressive novel, but one with a slight morguelike chill.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55597-602-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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