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DANIEL MARTIN

A writer and his women ("his past futures, his future pasts")—and an attempt to discover "what had gone wrong not only with Daniel Martin, but his generation, age, century. . . ." This is Fowles' mammoth, clubfooted new novel, with all the autobiographical indulgences and psycho-philosophical longueurs that such a prospectus almost always guarantees—and more. For alienated 20th-Century Man is here incarnated as famous screenwriter Dan, whom we follow in both first and third person as a transatlantic phone-call prises him out of the L.A. arms of filmstar Jenny and puts him on a 747 to the past: London, Devon, and Oxford, where, 25 years before, young Dan took young lane to bed but married her sister, leaving Jane to an arid, even-keeled life with donnish don Anthony. Now Anthony, dying of cancer, orders Dan to befriend varicose-veined Jane, to help her experience the juicier life she's missed. Dan obeys, finding new hope in old love—but not before he has swept out every cranny worthy of a flashback: childhood as the vicar's motherless son; first lust; blissful, unreal Oxford and early playwright success; Hollywood sell-outs, affairs, divorce, absentee fatherhood. And, in and around the muscle of incident. . . the flab of ponderings, musings, generalizations from glib to fascinating to fatuous—England vs. America, film vs. theater vs. novels, Marxism, Catholicism, the sexual revolution's "age of self." This marbling effect might take hold—if Fowles did not insist On coloring in the design with a marking pen. The third/first person shifts, distracting enough in themselves, are commented on, brooded about: "Neither the first nor the third person that he also was wanted lane in his arms again." When Dan takes lane for a cruise down the Nile with European types for company, the implicit imagery doesn't stay implicit for long: "If the Nile was human history, their ship was a pocket caricature of the human race, or at least the Western part of it." It comes as no surprise that Fowles writes magical scenes, embraceable characters (Dan, caught between "he" and "I," is the least appealing), and (sometimes) musical prose. The surprise is that he has chosen to burden his realest, smallest story with the unlikely job of explaining—and finding hope in—Twentieth-Century Life.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1977

ISBN: 0316290394

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1977

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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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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