Another finely detailed, shrewdly observed and unsentimentally moving portrait of English life from two-time Whitbread Award...

GOD ON THE ROCKS

Originally published in 1978, this Booker short-listed novel chronicles fraught interactions between and within the Marsh and Frayling families during the summer of 1936.

Because her mother has just had another baby, eight-year-old Margaret Marsh is allowed a special treat on Wednesdays: a trip to the seaside and surrounding woods with Lydia, the family’s maid. There isn’t much fun in the Marsh household, because they belong to a strict fundamentalist sect, the Primal Saints. Elinor Marsh converted when she married Kenneth on the rebound from a romance with Charles Frayling, whose snobbish mother forbade her Cambridge-educated son to marry a dustman’s daughter. Mrs. Frayling is dying now; Charles and his sister Binkie, estranged from her since the fight over Elinor, live in a house of their own not too far from the family manor. Gardam (The Man in the Wooden Hat, 2009, etc.) slips in and out of their various consciousnesses to delineate a tangled set of relationships. For all his religious fervor, Kenneth lusts after Lydia, tough-as-nails product of an abused childhood. Elinor, now much more self-confident than the shy working-class girl who adored Charles, flees from her husband to the Frayling siblings, but Charles has long since realized he’s not really interested in sex of any kind. Observing all this mystifying adult activity is intelligent, angry Margaret, whose reckless walk along the rocks as the tide sweeps in provides the novel’s climax. As usual, Gardam requires very few pages to delineate an entire world of class-ridden prejudice and the blighting effect it has on every character. Yet each one is so achingly vulnerable, and depicted with such empathy, that it’s a relief to be reminded in a final chapter set 12 years later that people are surprisingly resilient and can make the best of even the most unpromising circumstances.

Another finely detailed, shrewdly observed and unsentimentally moving portrait of English life from two-time Whitbread Award winner Gardam.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-933372-823-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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