Boyne’s singular villain and well-sustained tension merit a good audience.


An all-consuming ambition to be a successful writer drives a young man down unusual paths to literary acclaim in this compelling character study.

Boyne (The Heart’s Invisible Furies, 2017, etc.) opens his 11th novel for adults with novelist Erich Ackermann, 66, telling how he was beguiled by the handsome young would-be writer Maurice Swift, at whose urging Ackermann reveals his early life in Nazi Germany and a terrible secret. The revelations become Swift’s successful first novel, and Ackermann’s career collapses as the young man stokes media attention by disclosing his source. Cut to the Amalfi Coast home of Gore Vidal and a third-person narrator describing Swift’s visit with a different older gay writer. Vidal has some good sharp-edged lines as he concedes that the young man is well-read and a good writer, but he also finds him cruelly abusive to his latest mentor. What Vidal doesn’t perceive is Swift’s one glaring, possibly implausible shortcoming: He has no imagination for fiction, no good original ideas for a story. The tension rises as Boyne plays on the question of how far Swift will go for a winning idea. He is married in the next section, his second novel has flopped, and four more unassisted efforts were all rejected. Meanwhile his wife’s fictional debut is well-received, and she feels her second novel will be even better. This leads to a chilling confrontation, made all the more so as Boyne reveals why the wife’s narration addresses Swift as “you.” Other horrors lie ahead. The question of comeuppance is long left unanswered. Boyne lightens the book’s deep shadows and amorality with amusing jabs at the fame game behind literary life, with its blurbs and prizes, acolytes and endless envy.

Boyne’s singular villain and well-sustained tension merit a good audience.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2301-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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