Graphic, claustrophobic and fractured, this is emotionally violent and challenging work from a bold modern writer.

THE UNLOVED

In a rented French chateau where a group of tourists of many nationalities have assembled for Christmas, there is feasting, clandestine sex, heroin and a death. But this is no conventional murder mystery.

After the success of her most recent novel, Swimming Home (2012), shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Levy’s earlier novel—with its prefiguring aspects—is published for the first time in the U.S. It’s a dark, uncomfortable story of desire and damage involving three couples (two with children) and two single women gathered together in bourgeois comfort in Normandy. The death of one member of the house party, subsequently investigated by a French police inspector, lends formal shape, but Levy’s interest is less in plot, more in psychology. While the children play and the couples interact, the focus falls on Yasmina, an Algerian woman now lecturing in London, who has had encounters with the parents of another guest, Nancy, an American, decades earlier, when Algeria was struggling to gain independence from the French. Chapters revisiting that brutal era, exposing Yasmina’s shocking story, are sandwiched between staccato scenes in contemporary France in which the subject of love is considered, uncomfortably and repeatedly: “To be in love is to be bitten”; “There is no love without rage.” The tone of the narration is theatrical, as characters cook, comment, share beds, suffer, and sometimes deliver speeches or actual lines of dramatic dialogue. Levy’s approach is cerebral and unsentimental, exploring, in prose both sensuous and supple, the sadness and perplexity of children, the unsatisfied desires of adults, and, above all, the power and role of love.

Graphic, claustrophobic and fractured, this is emotionally violent and challenging work from a bold modern writer.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62040-677-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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