Not really successful as a novel, but literate, provocative, and at times quite surprisingly moving.


An intellectual’s revolt against the faith of his father becomes a disabling shaping force in this talky if intriguing first novel.

British (now Washingtonian) literary critic Wood (The Broken Estate, 1999) has as his narrator an Englishman by the name of Thomas Bunting, a philosophy professor who moonlights briefly as an obituary writer—explaining missed deadlines by citing the recent death of his father, a respected priest in a rural northern England village. But Peter Bunting is at this point decidedly alive—and the aforementioned falsehood is only one of hundreds concocted by his son, who’s not so much a Doubting Thomas, or even a committed atheist, as a lifelong “evader” of truths that confirm his father’s confident worldview and seem to limit Thomas’s own possibilities. This makes the story sound tedious, which it frequently is, owing to a plethora of conversations between Thomas and his estranged wife Jane (who loves him but hates his duplicity); his childhood friend Max Thurlow, a newspaper “pundit” (who “was succeeding for both of us”); assorted colleagues and acquaintances, and—interestingly—Terry Upsher, a semiliterate workingman whose simple honesty suggests the nature Thomas has resolutely rejected. The title denotes a book (his “BAG”) that Thomas is supposedly writing (instead of completing his long-aborning Ph.D.), which argues from design that the horrors of existence prove that whatever God created them isn’t worth worshipping. This is of course unoriginal, but it’s still the insistent nerve center here, particularly in climactic scenes wherein Thomas is all but silenced (if not persuaded) by his father’s lucid eloquence (“ . . . if you take God away from the world, the world is no less . . . painful or sinful or unsaved. It is simply painful and sinful . . . without the hope of salvation or succour”).

Not really successful as a novel, but literate, provocative, and at times quite surprisingly moving.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-11538-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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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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