Dazzling, nonetheless. Look for The Impressionist among next year’s Booker prize nominees.


            This already much-touted first novel, a major international commercial success, is its Anglo-Kashmiri author’s refreshingly original variation on the traditional theme of a young man’s education.

            The protagonist is Indian-born Pran Nath Razdan, ostensibly the son of a prosperous Hindu lawyer, but in fact the biracial product of his late (“mad”) mother’s single illicit encounter with an English adventurer (also deceased).  When the truth is learned, 15-year-old Pran is exiled (in 1918) from “his father’s” lavish home in Agra (near the Taj Mahal), wanders the city’s meaner streets, then is abducted and sold as a “hijra” (or “boy-girl” prostitute) to an epicurean Nawab.  Attracting the attention of pedophilic Major Privett-Clampe, Pran (who easily “passes” for white) survives by his wits and his astonishing good looks, moving on to Bombay, where he’s accepted as “Robert” by Scottish missionary Andrew Macfarlane and his wife Elspeth (grieving the deaths of two soldier sons in battle) – and as “Pretty Bobby” by the Bombay whores who employ him as an errand boy.  As Britain’s control of India becomes increasingly shaky, “Bobby” (who finds he’s repeatedly “free to reinvent himself”) appropriates the identity of a drunken young Englishman who’s the victim of mob violence, and travels to London as “Jonathan Bridgeman.”  From there he progresses to private school and university (Oxford), a frustrated affair with would-be demimondaine Astarte Chapel, and, as assistant to her father (a famous “Africanist” anthropologist), goes to West Africa to study the ecology of the Fotse tribe, where Pran/Bobby/Jonathan assumes yet another (transfiguring) identity.  Echoes of Waugh, Kipling, Bowles, and Rushdie (and perhaps a minor debt to Michael Pye’s Taking Lives) aside, this is a very considerable achievement:  a romantic-satiric saga enlivened by Kunzru’s sophisticated prose and urbane omniscient narrative voice.  Its only significant flaws are a rather rapid march through some key episodes and some heavy-handed satire on colonialism at its most arrogantly obtuse.

            Dazzling, nonetheless.  Look for The Impressionist among next year’s Booker prize nominees. 

Pub Date: April 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-525-94642-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2002

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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