JACKSON'S DILEMMA

Murdoch's disappointing latest (after The Green Knight, 1994, etc., etc.) is a reprisal of her usual themes without her usual verve: a mysterious Calibanlike figure eases the heartache of a circle of friends. Murdoch, whose novels, like clever British puzzles, are rich in intellectual allusions and paradox, has always scanted descriptive detail, preferring plots shaped by ideas. This time round, her characters, who live in a timeless England that could be Edwardian were it not for the existence of automobiles and references to the Holocaust, are even more detached from time and place. They're fragile souls, too, who weep copiously and are easily distressed, even though they have independent incomes and own two or three agreeable houses. The story begins at a celebratory dinner on the eve of young Edward's marriage to Marian- -a dinner that's ended by a note from the bride-to-be canceling the wedding. In the resulting disruption, characters fearing the worst for Marian offer snippets of self-revelation, while the mysterious and protean Jackson, part servant, part magician, and protÇgÇ of the late Uncle Tim, a mystical figure who first brought all these friends together, quietly sets about bringing true love to the younger members of the set—Edward, haunted by two tragic deaths and a dark secret; Tuan, the part Scottish, part Jewish religious scholar preoccupied with the Holocaust; Marian's sister, Rosalind, in love with Tuan; Anne, a widow with a young son; and Marian, who found true love on a recent visit to Australia and can't forget him. Hovering fretfully over them all is Benet, Uncle Tim's heir and a retired bureaucrat dilatorily writing a book on Heidegger. Distraught because he'sd anticipated vicariously sharing the young couple's happiness, Benet quarrels with Jackson, then heeds his own intuition and sees that love prevails. A ghost of a story, thin and unsubstantial even when investigating the mysteries of love and being. (First printing of 35,000)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-670-86815-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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