Whatever the novel lacks in terms of literary depth or character development it makes up for in laughs.

AMAZING DISGRACE

A British satirical novel skewers celebrity autobiographies, environmental activism and the idyllic life in Tuscany.

Introduced previously, in Cooking with Fernet Branca (2004), Gerald Samper returns with his flamboyant wit and self-absorption undiminished. He also retains a flair for the offbeat recipe, instructing the reader on the preparation of Death Roe and Badger Wellington with hallucinogenic mushrooms. Samper’s comic voice permeates and dominates this novel, where the other characters are mainly caricatures and the plot has a spirit of slapdash serendipity. Narrated in the present tense, as if Samper is experiencing as he is writing, the story concerns his latest ghostwriting project, Millie!, the memoir of a plucky, intrepid, one-armed grandmother who has set a record for sailing around the world (“single-handedly”). Though hailed as a heroine in her native Britain and throughout much of the nautical world, Millie Cleat is actually a foul-mouthed, difficult woman who has a penchant for leaving trouble in her wake. Samper must mediate between the truth as he sees it and the story Millie wants told. He also must do his best to torpedo the possibility of a sequel with this impossible woman. He’s much more interested in another project, the biography of a gifted conductor, though the subject is reluctant and the commercial prospects aren’t nearly as great. Subplots include Samper’s experimentation with male enhancement pills and the hilariously embarrassing consequences, and the mystery of the disappearance of his neighbor in Tuscany, which inspires all sorts of observations about the cutthroat Tuscan real-estate market and those who succumb to this fantasy of the good life. For a man of such refined sensibility, Samper suffers through a series of disgraces concerning bodily functions. The plot reaches its improbable climax at his 50th birthday party, though he has insisted that he’s just on the cusp of 40.

Whatever the novel lacks in terms of literary depth or character development it makes up for in laughs.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-933372-19-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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