At age 89, the author may be slowing down a trifle, but the best parts here are as bracing and engaging as anything she’s...

In her first post-Nobel book, Lessing (The Cleft, 2007, etc.) imagines what her parents’ life—and England—would have been like if World War I had never happened.

That’s the premise of the shrewd novella that comprises the most interesting half of this slightly scattershot assemblage. In real life, Emily McVeagh and Alfred Tayler met as nurse and gravely wounded soldier in a London hospital, married and settled in Rhodesia, where Lessing and her brother were raised while the Taylers tried to carve a good living from a colonial outpost that wasn’t at all what they expected. (A bracing nonfiction section following the novella delves into that.) In “Alfred and Emily,” they come from the same small English town, but he stays there to become a prosperous farmer while she defies her father’s wishes to train as a nurse in London. She marries a prominent doctor (unhappily); he marries a warm, comforting woman beloved by his drunken best mate nearly as much as by Alfred. Without the traumatizing World War, England remains affluent and comfortable, but also class-divided and stagnant; Lessing’s taste for discomfiting truths is as evident as ever. The diverse pieces that follow have their ups and downs. The material about her parents will be familiar in its broad strokes to anyone who read Lessing’s autobiography (Under My Skin, 1994, and Walking in the Shade, 1997), but it forms a pointed and instructive counterbalance to the novella. A few shorter, more casual pieces (“Insects,” “Provisions,” Servant Problems,” etc.) don’t add much to what Lessing has written before about Africa, but “My Brother Harry Tayler” gives the author a chance to expatiate on her sibling, her own children and the end of white rule in Rhodesia with an acuity all the more impressive since it requires barely eight pages.

At age 89, the author may be slowing down a trifle, but the best parts here are as bracing and engaging as anything she’s written in the past 30 years.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-083488-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2008



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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