Martin has given himself a novelist’s license, but has not used it to make Branwell’s self-destruction affecting.



An impressionist portrait of the least known of the Bronte siblings.

Branwell (1817–48) was the fourth child, after Charlotte, Maria and Elizabeth. Then came Emily and Anne. Maria, Branwell’s first love, died very young, as did Elizabeth; then their mother went. Death was everywhere. In the parsonage in Haworth, Yorkshire, Branwell was the most cosseted, because of his gender. Their father sent the girls off to school but kept Branwell home, teaching him Latin and Greek. The children had an intense imaginative life. Branwell and Charlotte created the Kingdom of Angria, originating in the boy’s love of toy soldiers; Emily and Anne had Gondal. Martin hews quite closely to the biographical record. We see Branwell weighing two ambitions, to be a painter or a poet; his early love of strong drink and opium; his checkered life in the workplace. Twice he is hired as a private tutor, and twice he is fired. He is also fired as a railroad clerk for sloppy bookkeeping. The once-outgoing young man stops writing, withdraws into himself, and hurries to his death at 31, alcohol- and opium-dependent. Martin sees Branwell’s loss of his second job as a tutor to be pivotal, alienating him from Charlotte and Anne, leaving Emily as his only support. At Thorp Green, Anne taught the girls while Branwell taught young Edmund. Was he dismissed for pederasty (Martin’s implication) or for having an affair with his employer’s wife (the conventional view)? Martin prizes ambiguity, as he showed in his debut (Outline of My Lover, 2000), but here he piles innuendo on top of innuendo for little fictional gain. There are other problems. The author writes in brief paragraphs, often consisting of only one sentence; the stop-start rhythm is tiring. Consistency is a factor, too. Sometimes he writes from the viewpoint of the omniscient narrator and sometimes from Branwell’s—not a good mix.

Martin has given himself a novelist’s license, but has not used it to make Branwell’s self-destruction affecting.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2005

ISBN: 1-933368-00-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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