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THE COLOUR OF MEMORY

Random sharp insights and images are studded inside this leisurely and oddly innocent chronicle of British Gen-X slackers.

Dyer, the prolific British essayist and novelist who now lives in the U.S. and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011), published his first novel—an impressionistic, affectionate portrait of a group of 1980s British bohemians—in the U.K. in 1989.

A nameless narrator and five close friends in their mid-20s spend their days eating, drinking, smoking grass, talking and doing as little actual work as possible while living in the Brixton neighborhood of London. The narrator works dead-end marketing research jobs. Freddie, the narrator’s oldest and perhaps closest friend, is a would-be writer who seldom actually writes. Carlton obsesses about keeping his apartment clean. Steranko, whom the narrator envies and wishes he were more like, paints. When the narrator and Steranko both fall for beautiful Foomie, the narrator is not surprised that she chooses Steranko. Or that his own sister, Fran, and Steranko share an attraction. Sexual undercurrents run everywhere, but there is no sordidness and not much actual sex. Friendship is the important currency here. The narrator is a romantic, capturing images of his daily life in what he calls “an album of snaps.” He witnesses a stranger being beaten on the Tube but doesn’t step in; he meets a girl he’s attracted to, then remembers they met months before; he’s mugged but not hurt. He watches moments of random kindness and moments of cruelty. His friends have good and bad times. They discuss Nietzsche and listen to jazz. They live on the dole, getting stoned and wasted regularly. The narrator not only observes, but feels according to the situation: frequently boredom, occasionally fear, very occasionally exhilaration. This is less a plotted novel than a smudged valentine to young-adulthood friendships and the setting where they take place, 1980s Brixton, a slightly seedy, multiethnic district of London populated by immigrants and artistic types who live uneasily side by side.

Random sharp insights and images are studded inside this leisurely and oddly innocent chronicle of British Gen-X slackers.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55597-677-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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