A rich, rewarding character study in which spiritual speculation is grounded in an earthy and entertaining realism.


An award-winning Scottish author makes his American debut with the story of a faithless minister who befriends the Devil.

Gideon Mack does not believe in God. He gave that up as a boy, when he discovered that his schoolmates watched Batman on Sunday without suffering divine retribution, and when his own schoolyard blasphemies went unpunished. It comes as something of a surprise, then, when he decides to follow his father into the Church of Scotland. It’s even more surprising when this minister who doesn’t believe in God meets the Devil. This novel is Gideon’s life-story, from his gloomy childhood to the spiritual awakening—and rather shocking behavior—that follow his sojourn with Satan. The Devil does not restore Gideon’s faith in God—Satan himself has neither seen nor heard from his opposite number in quite some time—but he does tantalize Gideon with glimpses of supernatural possibility. He doesn’t offer Gideon salvation, but adventure. The Devil is moody and mercurial and his promises are suspiciously vague, but he is an altogether more appealing figure than the Jesus who haunted Gideon’s childhood as a sort of ghostly busybody. And, of course, the Devil has made himself present and real in Gideon’s life in a way that Jesus never did. There’s nothing radical in Robertson’s theology. The suggestion that God is dead—or, at the very least, retired—has been made before, and the Devil has been a fascinating and even sympathetic character at least since Paradise Lost. It’s true that this Devil is refreshingly free of romance, but Robertson’s real innovation is Gideon: He’s a thoroughly compelling and honestly complex character, someone who’s utterly candid about his vocational fraudulence but only fitfully aware of how dishonesty and fear rule the other aspects of his life, particularly his marriage and friendships. It is both fitting and slightly chilling that when he finally finds true companionship, it’s with the Prince of Lies.

A rich, rewarding character study in which spiritual speculation is grounded in an earthy and entertaining realism.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-670-03844-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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