THE CARDIFF TEAM

Readers familiar with Davenport's cerebral fictions (A Table of Green Fields, 1993, etc.) will find more of the same in his latest collection: a handful of Poundian collages that burst with intellect, and then some tiresome studies in higher pederasty. The former group includes another story based on incidents in the life of Kafka. In ``The Messengers,'' he roams a nudist health spa and contemplates God and redemption. A similar extrapolation from intellectual history drives ``Dinner at the Bank of England,'' in which Davenport imagines the conversation between George Santayana, the aphoristic philosopher from Harvard, and his host, a captain in the Royal Guard, a figure out of Kipling. ``Veranda Hung with Wisteria'' captures in a single paragraph the moment when Poe discovers the essence of Chinese poetry. In ``Home,'' Davenport channels Defoe, in the voice of Crusoe returning to his island after a short voyage in his self-made boat. The crosscut dialogue of ``Boys Smell Like Oranges'' juxtaposes soccer players in a Parisian park with the conversation of LÇvy-Bruhl and the ethnographer Leenhardt, whose trip to New Caledonia undermined his missionary zeal with anthropological relativism. The remaining stories all draw on Davenport's tiresome obsession with uncircumcised boys, all sexually liberated, and frolicsome in a healthy, clean, Scandinavian sort of way. In ``The Meadow Lark,'' boyish innocence leads to exploring the taste of one's sperm. In ``Concert Champetre in D Minor,'' forward-thinking parents approve of their boys' horseplay, the naked posters of adolescent boys on their walls, and their incessant masturbation. The longest narrative, the title story, set in the Parisian demimonde of two sexually liberated women with two young children, is a study in ``urban anthropology, anarchy, and sex.'' Inspired by a painting of Delaunay's, the world of football, engineering, and flight serves as a backdrop to more groping, licking, sniffing, etc. Davenport's sophisticated narratives, clever, bristling with esoteric allusions, obscure the leerings of a dirty old man and the cant of polymorphous perversity.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 1996

ISBN: 0-8112-1335-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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