In no sense an autobiography—"Those parts of a life most beloved of columnists remain outside the scope of this book"—this is a suavely arranged, roughly chronological group of personal essays, most of them previously published: the introductions to the British collected edition of Greene's oeuvre; reportage from international trouble spots (Greene has sought peril as one "way of escape" from a vaguely defined angst); salutes to two or three friends; plus a few anecdotes and reflections. A book, then, largely for longtime, passionate readers of Greene's novels—who will learn here how he now rates each book, what real-life circumstances did (or didn't) lie behind the fiction, how Greene differs with his critics, which books came easy and which were all torture. (The Confidential Agent was written in six weeks on Benzedrine, "as though I were ghosting for another man.") He is often self-deprecating, especially about the early novels: "Here are examples of my style in those days and my terrible misuse of simile and metaphor." He tells how, in the mid-1930s, his writing changed with his "desire to be a spectator of history" (specifically, then, the theo-political crises in Spain and Mexico). He bridles at the critics' characterization of all Greene locales as "Greeneland": "'This is Indochina,' I want to exclaim, 'this is Mexico, this is Sierra Leone carefully and accurately described.'" He wearyingly shakes off the label of "Catholic writer" ("detestable term!"), having found himself "used and exhausted by the victims of religion" who looked to him for spiritual guidance: "I was like a man without medical knowledge in a village struck with plague." (A moving, convincing appreciation of Evelyn Waugh centers on devout EW's pain over Greene's openness to doubt and sympathy for atheism: we "inhabited different wastelands.") And, along with the often-eloquent record of each novel's evolution, there are brief comments on short stories, playwrighting, screenwriting (a mini-sketch of chum Alexander Korda, whose work Greene didn't admire), touchstones (Ford's The Good Soldier), and fame ("A reputation is like a death mask"). But, while all of this hangs together nicely enough as a purely writer's-eye view of a life's work, the pieces which take Greene abroad and sometimes into action—in Malaya, 1950s Vietnam (the French war), Kenya, Haiti—are less satisfying: fragmentary, digressive, politically opinionated, these vignettes often tease without then delivering (a mere passing reference to tea with Ho Chi Minh); and Greene himself pops up in personal situations (smoking opium, frequenting brothels) that hardly jibe with the self-concealing tenor of most of the book. Overall, in fact, the problem here is that this is a consideration of "ways of escape" with no real sense of what is being escaped from—just the tip of an intriguing, elusive iceberg. Still—the Greene prose is as deceptively clean-cut and subtly ironic as ever; and his own commentaries on the fiction are of course an invaluable complement to the widely divergent opinions of the Marxists, Catholics, and others. So: not the memoir some might hope for—even less a sort of life than A Sort of Life (1971)—but, on its own terms, sufficiently alluring.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1980

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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