MRS. OSMOND

A sequel that honors James and his singular heroine while showing Banville to be both an uncanny mimic and, as always, a...

A sequel to The Portrait of a Lady that may well delight fans of that Henry James masterpiece and leave other readers bemused by the contemporary work’s 19th-century sensibility.

When last seen in Portrait, Isabel Osmond, nee Archer, has left London to return—inexplicably or inevitably—to Rome and her psychologically abusive husband, Gilbert. In this sequel, Isabel delays that confrontation for almost two months as she seeks counsel from friends and ponders her shortcomings, dead marriage, and the sort of freedom she desires. There’s a comically appalling vegetarian dinner with a suffragette acquaintance, featuring “uncompromising greens,” a late-night talk-a-thon with her bluestocking friend, Henrietta Stackpole, and a soiree at the Paris home of an American heiress, where Isabel encounters nemesis Serena Merle, her husband’s partner in more crimes than James set forth. Isabel also withdraws “a very large sum” in cash from her London bank and carries it about in a leather satchel. She misplaces it and retrieves it, only to have Banville (The Blue Guitar, 2015, etc.) conceal its whereabouts for much of the book until it comes to serve the overarching theme of freedom. The disappearing cash is one of the subtler devices (cliffhangers end several chapters) he uses to bring some tension to this slowly unfolding drama, in which Isabel’s Grand Detour before the reckoning with Gilbert—London, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Florence, Rome—offers most of the action: boarding a train, ferry, or horse-drawn carriage. Fans of Henry will find the writing persuasively Jamesian in its voice and diction, its syntax less labyrinthine. Fans of John should deem it marvelously Banville-an in its observations, humor, and insight—though they may wonder at this literary diversion by a writer who already plies the pen name Benjamin Black.

A sequel that honors James and his singular heroine while showing Banville to be both an uncanny mimic and, as always, a captivating writer.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49342-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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