A sort of realism that is at once technically stringent and mordantly amusing.

THIS SHOULD BE WRITTEN IN THE PRESENT TENSE

The English-language debut of one of Denmark’s most esteemed—and most popular—authors.

A slender book composed of short bursts of what seems to be guileless prose, this is a surprisingly difficult read. It begins where it ends, and in between these two iterations of the same moment, the narrative is made up of disjointed scenes from a young woman’s mostly very uneventful life. The story, such as it is, doesn’t flow; it accumulates. Dorte Hansen is 20, ostensibly a student of literature at Copenhagen University, and living on her own by the train station in Glumsø. Any plot synopsis would be both misleadingly dull and antithetical to what the author is doing in this novel. The narration is a particularly austere version of first-person, shorn of the devices—dialogue rich in back story, for example, or detailed internal monologue—that writers generally use to guide readers through their invented worlds. As Dorte’s recollections move around in time and space, the reader is left to stumble along behind her, sifting through the minutiae of her life. Dorte explains from the outset that she has thrown most of her work in the garbage, and there’s a sly humor in this. Late in the novel, another writer explains how she strips her own texts of anything that seems to lack a purpose. Dorte disagrees. “Sometimes things happen,” she argues. The other writer is unpersuaded: “But that’s only in reality. And here we’re talking about fiction.” This particular work of fiction seems to contain nothing but the bits that another writer might have left out. It’s the reader's task to find meaning—if there is such a thing—in what Dorte doesn’t say, in the pages that she destroyed.

A sort of realism that is at once technically stringent and mordantly amusing.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59376-633-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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