PSALM AT JOURNEY'S END

First published in Norway in 1990 and a bestseller in Europe, Hansen's second novel (but first US publication) well deserves its acclaim as it charts the lives of several members of the band on board the Titanic, revealing the tragic steps that brought them together on that doomed voyage. The band members themselves are fictional, but their private agonies are real enough, starting with leader Jason Coward, whose boyhood ended prematurely with the death of his physician father and musical mother in India while he was in boarding school, provoking him to a delinquency that eventually leads to his expulsion from medical school and a subsequent life among the dregs of London—a descent ending only when he sees a drunken Russian howling in a dive and takes his side in a brawl, later to join him in violin duos that land the pair steady work on cruise ships. Then there's the secretive Spot, the pianist who plays Chopin with a virtuoso's touch but whose hidden past includes a German bourgeois childhood, years of violin training in Paris with a maestro, a fellow student turned loving wife and mother of their daughter, and a growing reputation, all destroyed by his frustrated ambition to be a composer and by a growing drug addiction. A younger version of these two, making his first voyage and his first money as a musician, is David, a Castorp-like lad from Vienna fleeing the bitter disappointment of his first love, who turned her attention to a famous, older man—a betrayal that David met initially with weakness but finally with strength, confronting the pair in public and proving himself superior to his rival. Past mingles with present as these and other sad tales emerge, while the Titanic steams inexorably toward her destiny. A shimmering, magical evocation of a Europe as yet untouched by world wars, and a deft, convincing combination of personal and public tragedy. First-rate storytelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-374-23868-5

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1996

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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