NOBLE HOUSE

There's nothing wrong with Clavell's new "Asian Saga" novel that cutting 900 pages wouldn't fix. No, that's not a misprint: at 1206 pp., this account of one interminable week in 1963 Hong Kong stretches out a conventional but adequate plot—financial deals plus criss-crossing spies—with awesomely tedious, constantly rehashing conversations; and, unlike Tai-Pan and Shogun, there's little Far Eastern exotica here to hold your interest while the padding mounts up. Primary focus is on Ian Duncross, new tai-pan of Hong Kong's oldest trading house—who's hoping to save Noble House from bankruptcy via a joint-venture deal with US entrepreneur Linc Bartlett, just arrived in HK with his right-hand woman, Casey. But Ian's plans are fraught with peril: Bartlett is an unscrupulous type who'll ditch the deal if he can find a better one; Ian's arch-enemy, Quillan Gornt of the Rothwell-Gornt house, is out to snatch up Noble House, with help from some shady bank-collapse and selling-short maneuvers; and Noble House employee John then (soon kidnapped and dead) has been peddling company secrets, even stealing the legendary half-coin (whoever possesses it can demand any favor of the tai-pan). So, while Ian goes from bank to bank and nation to nation looking for bail-out money (in case the Bartlett deal collapses), Clavell piles on the other half of the plot: the presence of secret communist agents in Hong Kong—at Noble House, in the police, even in British Intelligence. And there are also subplots galore: Chinese gold, gun, and drug smugglers; romances (Bartlett and a Eurasian, Casey and everybody); racetrack doings. Eventually, Ian will become entangled in the spy fracas—because he possesses documentary clues to the identity of the "moles"—and eventually Clavell also throws in some Mafia and Red-China touches. But just about everything is rendered moot by a landslide in the last 100 pages—some blessed action after acres of money-talk and who's-the-mole? jabber—and it all finally ends with the surfacing of that half-coin. Flat, colorless characters; slipshod, pulp-mag prose ("Are you the magic I've been seeking forever or just another broad?"); little suspense, violence, or sex. In other words, Dullsville—but the Clavell name will ensure big interest. . . at least until word-of-mouth takes over.

Pub Date: April 30, 1981

ISBN: 0385343264

Page Count: 1136

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1981

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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