A departure and a revelation, though the story is dark and doesn't offer much in the way of redemption (or, for that matter,...

THE CASUAL VACANCY

Harry Potter’s mommy has a potty mouth.

The wires have been abuzz for months with the news that Rowling was writing a new book—and this one a departure from her Potter franchise, a book for grown-ups. The wait was worth it, and if Rowling’s focus remains on tortured adolescents (as if there were any other kind), they’re teenagers trapped without any magic whatsoever in a world full of Muggles. There’s some clef in this roman, magic or not: The setting is a northerly English town full of council estates and leafy garden suburbs inhabited by people who, almost without exception, are not very happy and really not very likable. While a special election is in the offing, they do the usual things: They smoke and drink and masturbate, and they say and think things along the lines of “Like fuck he does, the cunt,” and when they’re lucky, they have sex, or at least cop a feel, best when a young woman named Krystal is involved. Ah, Krystal, a piece of work both nasty and beguiling: “She knew no fear, like the boys who came to school with tattoos they had inked themselves, with split lips and cigarettes, and stories of clashes with the police, of taking drugs and easy sex.” Sometimes, as with the figure who opens the piece, Rowling’s characters die—and, as with the American Henry James’ oh-so-English novel The Spoils of Poynton, when they do, they set things in motion. Other times, they close things up but never neatly. The reader will be surprised at some of Rowling’s victims and the ways she chooses to dispose of them, but this is less a book about mayhem than about the grimness of most lives. It is skillfully, often even elegantly written, and though its cast of characters is large and its thrills and spills few, Rowling manages to keep the story tied together and moving along nicely. Even so, it’s difficult to find much purchase among some of her characters, particularly the tough, poor ones who live on the edge of town, and it often seems that Rowling doesn’t like them much either. In all, when they’re not sneaking off to Yarvil for relief, the residents of Pagford are Hobbesian through and through: rich hate poor, and poor hate rich; Indians hate Anglos, and Anglos hate Indians; and everyone hates the meddlesome middle-class do-gooders with suggestive names like Fairbrother who try to make things better.

A departure and a revelation, though the story is dark and doesn't offer much in the way of redemption (or, for that matter, much in the way of laughs). Still, this Rowling person may have a career as a writer before her.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-22853-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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