Britisher Lansbury's debut is a pleasant literary-historical entertainment: a look at what readers really thought when the story ``The Secret Sharer'' was published (in 1912) by Joseph Conrad— born Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski. Those who don't remember the story—a young ship's captain hides a murderer fleeing from another ship, then helps the fugitive escape by arranging for him to swim ashore—will be at a disadvantage, but not for long: Lansbury, by a variety of means (even a stage drama, by ``unknown'' hand), substantially recreates it. In July of 1914, for example, a reporter interviews the man who'd been Korzeniowski's Chief Mate when the real-life events of the story took place 30 years earlier. This old salt, 79, in a wheelchair, foul of mouth and fond of drink, despises Conrad's literary success (in the story, after all, the mate is an ``imbecile'') and claims that the fugitive and the captain were ``nancy boys''—even saying that he drilled a hole in the ship's cabin-wall to spy on them. Others have other ways of looking at things: Aubrey Jeavons, for example, the London magazine editor who in fact first arranged the interview. Jeavons, the mainspring of the novel, not only lets us read his own interpretive essay on the great short story, but writes an inquiry to one Sigmund Freud of Vienna, who responds with great interest, apologizing only for his delay in answering, attributing it (in a letter dated September 1914) to ``the beginning of general hostilities in Europe.'' Readers will not only get to read Freud's analysis of homosexuality in the story (giving very good reason for the mate's being declared ``imbecile''), but will get to go for tea at Edmund Gosse's house in London, meet the prime minister-to-be (after Asquith), and hear sad news of Henry James in decline. Much fun for Conradians, perhaps admittedly less for others.

Pub Date: July 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-85242-240-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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