Overfreighted with the angst of youth, this novel is at its most impressive in its impressionistic evocation of a dazzling,...

A BAD CHARACTER

The meeting between a restless young woman and a manipulative, worldly man in Delhi ignites a volatile, ill-fated love story, delivered with histrionic touches by debut Indian writer Kapoor.

“The world keeps turning, but no one knows what turns in me,” reports the nameless female narrator of this short, overheated first novel, who opens with the announcement that her lover died when she was 21. Looking back 10 years later, the woman records her awkward early years, her mother’s death when she was 17, her beloved father’s abandonment of her, her relocation to Delhi to live with Aunty and attend college. There, she meets a man in a cafe. “I am pretty and he is ugly. And the secret is this turns me on.” Ugly he may be, and a liar too, it emerges, but the man knows Delhi inside out, has wealth, confidence and a wild streak, and woos her slowly but thoroughly. When the sex eventually begins, it’s intense and he’s in control. Kapoor boosts her slender coming-of-age story with flashes of Delhi in 2000, a place of economic ferment in some quarters, while elsewhere, the teeming centuries-old ways continue. Men’s predatory glances—and actions—are all around. Consumed by her passion, the girl allows her lover to dress her and give her drugs to sample. Later, after his death, she will sleep with strangers, taking coke to assuage her guilt at the thought he might have committed suicide over her. Yet their relationship had turned destructive toward the end, heralding the man’s mental breakdown. While the truth will remain ever obscure, the girl will eventually move on.

Overfreighted with the angst of youth, this novel is at its most impressive in its impressionistic evocation of a dazzling, dangerous cityscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-35274-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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