THE GUN SELLER

It's no surprise that this fey first novel from British TV comedian/writer Laurie (Jeeves and Wooster, etc.) should feature an updated Bertie Wooster pitched headlong into international intrigue, terrorism, and really embarrassing scrapes. Thomas Lang's an inoffensive sort who hasn't done much since mustering out of the Scots Guards. One day, apropos of nothing in particular, a Canadian arms-dealer offers him $100,000 to assassinate industrialist Alexander Woolf. Not wanting either the money or the opprobrium of having kept quiet about it, Thomas hies himself to Woolf's house, where he finds—not Woolf, but a minder who tries to break his arm, and Woolf's well-armed daughter Sarah, who could easily break his heart. Worse, after Thomas is taken in and questioned minutely, yet ineffectually, by the Ministry of Defense, he realizes that the Canadian power broker who set him up was none other than Woolf himself. It's only the first act in a farcical series of adventures that will have Thomas changing his name and cover story more often than most readers change their bedclothes, as he careens from the American Embassy in London to a terrorist cell in Switzerland to a climactic bit of derring-do with a killer helicopter over Casablanca, playing by turns Sarah's solicitous protector, Woolf's avenger, and a Minnesota adjunct terrorist who has to prove his loyalty to The Sword of Justice by killing a Dutch finance minister. Throughout all this balderdash—as Thomas goes through all of James Bond's paces (unarmed combat, ritualistic double-crosses, soft-focus sex with Third World terrorists)—the jokes are reliably funny; but since the premise and its development are nowhere more outrageous than in straight-faced examples of the genre, the japery eventually grows monotonous. Still, every episode is awash with giggles, even if the whole production seems directed at audiences who think Get Smart would have worked better as a six-hour BBC series.

Pub Date: May 6, 1997

ISBN: 1-56947-087-1

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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