Postmodern mysteries from Paul Auster to Martin Amis have generally been dark and despairing. But noted critic Bayley’s American fiction debut is lightly, brightly comic—that is, if it really is a comedy, or indeed a mystery. Three artsy Brits are in The Hague to stare at some Vermeers. Charles Martin, who teaches fine arts at the University of London, is gay, but he’s fighting his biological inclinations on behalf of Cloe Winterbotham, perennial gallery secretary, who’s straight. Cloe’s friend Nancy Deverell, who narrates the first half of this urbanely playful story, doesn’t seem entirely convinced that she’s a girl. Neither does the man in the hotel elevator who masterfully takes her (or maybe him) on his lap, and later turns up in her room, identifying himself as a policeman, for a marathon night of sex. Nancy compares herself to Vermeer’s girl in the red hat, who’s obviously not a girl at all despite her earrings. This coy bit of gender confusion is the signal that every melodramatic contrivance Bayley can spring on (and through) Nancy may be more, or less, than it seems. Has Cloe really been kidnaped by Palestinian terrorists? Is the elevator policeman truly a Mossad agent? Does he actually return to Nancy’s bed and nearly strangle her in her sleep? Finally—as Nancy later claims to Cloe’s friend Roland, who’s gone to the sleepy French village of Mouriez in search of Nancy and the possible significance lurking beneath the banalities of her cryptic postcard home—does she end up marrying him, preparing for still another dozen turns of the screw? In true postmodern fashion, Bayley declines to use the larger units of narrative to build suspense, and Nancy’s adventures with Roland in France manage to be even more delicately inconsequential (think Claire’s Knee with spies) than the intrigue that may never have happened in Holland. For readers in the right mood, a giddy dose of helium; for others, a farrago of tediously precious folderol.

Pub Date: May 18, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18658-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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