Images here—the girls’ chalk drawings on blackout curtains, the flowers in the secret garden—can be breathtaking, but such...


A slight, chiseled story about a lonely horticulturalist who plants a garden for the Women’s Land Army during WWII.

Following Charlotte Brontë’s lead in Humphreys’s last novel (Afterimage, 2001), Virginia Woolf now takes the role of literary touchstone. Gwen Davis keeps writing letters she doesn’t mail to Woolf, whose lonely figure she once followed down a London street. At 35, Gwen is a sad case of isolation who likes to sleep under a heavy open book to feel embraced. Having experienced minimal human affection, she loves London with an almost physical passion. Unable to bear its destruction under the bombing, she volunteers to plant potatoes for the war effort at an estate in Devon with a band of young recruits in the Land Army. She leaves the city and her job studying parsnips at the Royal Horticultural Society on the same day that Virginia Woolf’s suicide is discovered. Although she desperately wants to bond with her new community, once in Devon she behaves at first like a stereotypical spinster, overly rigid and controlling; her inability to bridge the gap between her yearning and her behavior can be heartbreaking. In particular, she turns an unnecessarily prim eye on the fraternization taking place between the girls and a battalion of Canadian soldiers also billeted on the estate. Then she finds and begins to tend a secret abandoned garden, the Garden of Longing. Gradually, Gwen relaxes within herself and makes her first real friend, the intense, anorexic (though the word is never used) Jane, whose fighter pilot fiancé is missing and who reads To the Lighthouse aloud to a lonely soldier while Gwen listens at the door. Gwen also finds herself attracted to the battalion’s handsome, quietly alcoholic Captain, who recites poetry and has suffered a deep loss of his own.

Images here—the girls’ chalk drawings on blackout curtains, the flowers in the secret garden—can be breathtaking, but such abundant literary artifice keeps the reader at bay.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-393-05183-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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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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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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