Uneven, hectic, sometimes decidedly adolescent. Nonetheless, the author gets points for audacity, and for reinventing the...

DAMNED IF YOU DO

A brash and often gruesomely funny debut novel from England, offering the first-person testimony of a zombie.

The nameless narrator is the loser in a lottery held by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, Famine, Pestilence, and War) to find a successor to Hades, Death's assistant, who has been assassinated. Removed from his grave in Oxford, where he has been residing comfortably, if without much stimulation, for several years, our hero learns that he is to be given a tryout, lasting for one week, during which he'll accompany Death on his rounds. If he fails, he'll be sent back to his grave for good. Pythonesque slapstick abounds in subsequent developments. Despite their grisly looks, the Horsemen are more like squabbling career bureaucrats than supernatural figures. They've given up horses in favor of battered cars. They use computers to track their clients. They tend to blame each other when their assignments go wrong—as they often do. An attempt to release a new plague germ during a screening of (what else?) Bergman's The Seventh Seal fails, and Death greatly annoys the audience by laughing uproariously at his portrayal on screen. The Four Horsemen constantly try to outmaneuver each other and impress ‘The Chief,’ who is never seen and communicates only through terse memos. Over the course of his trial week, the narrator begins to recover his past: he was a private investigator, murdered by his lover's husband. Musings on his adoration of this woman, and on his otherwise unremarkable life, tend to be lengthy and tiresome. But his desperate scheme to quit the Horsemen and reenter life—which involves (of course) challenging Death to a chess match—is rather touching.

Uneven, hectic, sometimes decidedly adolescent. Nonetheless, the author gets points for audacity, and for reinventing the Four Horsemen as a perpetual vaudeville act.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-26288-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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