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REYNARD THE FOX

A NEW TRANSLATION

Those who are able to navigate early modern English would do better to read Caxton, but this new version has the virtue of...

Timely translation of the medieval story cycle about a fox who constantly outwits the “not only dim-witted but also greedy, coarse and self-interested” folks in charge.

Reynard the Fox rolls up all the best wiles of Odysseus, Harpo Marx and the Coyote of North American Indian mythology; he’s a trickster, a court jester and a buffoon who, somewhat freer to speak truth to power than the rest of us, shows time and again that the emperor’s clothes are threadbare. The exiled English printer William Caxton understood this, and his 15th-century translation of the Old French Roman de Renart, though subtle in its satire, made it plain “how clever subjects can survive enemies and kings.” So Greenblatt writes in his introduction to this new translation by Simpson (English/Harvard Univ.), which properly places the stories about Reynard, which emerged as long ago as the 1100s, in the tradition of Aesop and other fabulists. Simpson’s translation is fully serviceable, though there are some oddly herky-jerky clashes of diction scattered throughout: “Cousin Reynard, now’s the time to open up your bag of tricks: if you’re so clever, I suggest you help yourself. You’re in a fix, buddy.” “The wolf said: ‘Just listen to this guy! I’m the one who’s suffered and have cause to complain, and he wants me to pay him!’ ” If the characters sound like Sir Walter Scott at one moment and Lou Costello the next, that doesn’t diminish the bite and force of the stories, which, though surely not to everyone’s taste, are plenty of fun to read—especially when Reynard, having outwitted Lion and Wolf and Cat and every other creature in the French barnyard, finally talks himself into a cushy government job, at last securing a sinecure to guard the henhouse.

Those who are able to navigate early modern English would do better to read Caxton, but this new version has the virtue of making the Reynard stories easily accessible.

Pub Date: March 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-87140-736-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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