THE RETURN OF MERLIN

Guru Chopra's (Ageless Body/Timeless Mind, 1993, etc.) first novel comes up with a mind/body version of the Arthurian legend that lends great charm to familiar lore. Chopra not only creates strong prose for his lighter-than-air battle between magical forces of good and evil but keeps the pot boiling with symbols that bounce meanings off the page and a plot that turns inside out like a glove as characters shift shapes and identities. The novel opens on the fall of the Round Table to Arthur's evil son, Modred, while introducing us to a Merlin seemingly bored with destiny, then leaps to modern times as Detective Constable Arthur Callum investigates the highway death of a bearded old man (Merlin), whose body disappears from an ambulance. Arthur is assisted by Detective Constable Katy Kilbride (who echoes Guinevere), but neither of these modern folk is bound by the rules of courtly love that brace Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. The enchantments and evil spells common to knighthood, though, do leap the centuries, as Modred in modern guise seeks out the new Merlin to destroy his power for good. Why did the earlier Merlin seem bored? Because wizards live backward through time—and know outcomes before they know beginnings. The story never takes on epic scale, but in minor mode more or less upends the detective thriller with miraculous inversions and magical events, such as a chase through a thickly branched primeval forest moved to the modern countryside, being in which is like being locked into a schizoid mind. Katy becomes engaged to Arthur but marries Ambersides (Modred), then is seduced by the succubus Jasper, who sees her as the Fairy Fay—actually Morgan le Fay—while Modred is Arthur's darker nature. At last, all the characters are splinters of each other, and phases of the reader as well, awaiting Jungian individuation. Crawling about on the web of time makes for light and lively storytelling.

Pub Date: July 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-517-59849-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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