A dark, ultimately frustrating tale of an enfant terrible wannabe.


Danish author Mondrup (Godhavn, 2014) exposes the underbelly of the contemporary Danish art scene in this novel about a young artist in crisis.

The eponymous narrator's house, inherited from her grandfather, burns down on the first page, destroying all the art she's prepared for an upcoming exhibition. Distraught, she seeks her friends, one a talented painter caught between her artistic potential and the demands of motherhood. Written in short, first-person chapters, the novel cuts between Justine's past—the grandfather she loved, her problematic parents, the girlfriend who no longer wants to see her—and the present-tense aftermath of the fire. The narrative is fractured, the voice confused: "I think I'm some other. Or how should I put it? I've become some other. That other hasn't become me, though. She didn't exist before the fire. Or did she? She's a new condition. At once definitive and boundless. I have no clue where we're off to now." Mondrup depicts the sexism and grittiness of the art world and the ambivalence of the artists convincingly. At the academy Justine and her friends attended, "It wasn't too long before the janitorial staff could no longer tell the difference between what was trash and what was important." But the increasingly unreliable narrator remains enigmatic, and her energetic self-destruction feels postured. "The me that is now is formless, not exactly dissipated, but flailing around, thrashing, reflecting off windows and surfaces." Justine does a great deal of flailing, drinking heavily, cheating on her girlfriend with a string of men she despises, and making stonerlike declarations: "I grope along a chain of Before Now and After. I lift my feet and head in that direction. That direction and not that direction. Now I draw away, now I pull closer." The mystery of what happened on the night of the fire fails to satisfy; we already know she's to blame for her own unhappiness. "You're not too bright," one of her sexual partners observes.

A dark, ultimately frustrating tale of an enfant terrible wannabe.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940953-48-9

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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