MR PHILLIPS

Following up on his successful cookbook-cum-mystery (The Debt to Pleasure, 1996), Lanchester offers an end-of-the-century

version of Mrs. Dalloway—with results as brilliantly captivating as Michael Cunningham’s were in The Hours. Victor Phillips, married with two sons, lives in a London far different from Clarissa Dalloway’s—more populous and polluted, more clogged with traffic, more ridden with crime—and yet a city that’s much unchanged. To show this sameness within differences, Lanchester imitates Woolf by using the method that she (and James Joyce) made new, following his character through a day of wandering through the city. The reader, thus, meets Mr. Phillips waking beside his wife early one Monday morning in July, follows his thoughts in the closest—often most droll—detail as he thinks about sex on the one hand and, on the other, about the oppressive noise of the airliners coming in overhead for landings at Heathrow. This dichotomy—life-force versus mechanized, modern oppression of life—will accompany Mr. Phillips through the last step he takes in the book. Indeed, the reader soon enough learns that Mr. Phillips, fiftysomething, has himself, after three decades as an accountant with the catering firm of Wilkins and Co., been declared "redundant" and let go. This is dehumanizing news that he can’t face telling Mrs. Phillips, and so it is, dressed for work and carrying his briefcase, that he traverses London to fill the hours. His tragicomic odyssey takes him (like Mrs. Dalloway) through the park, where he meets not a WWI victim but a victim of another kind; he later sees a famous person; meets his older son for lunch; visits a pornography theater; undergoes danger; experiences coincidence; has a remarkable epiphany; returns home. Some books—often those showing the importance of unimportant things—pale in the telling and soar in the reading. Lanchester’s capable, knowledgeable, revelatory homage to Mrs. Woolf and Mr. Joyce (and even to Mr. Eliot’s "unreal city")

is one of them.

Pub Date: April 10, 2000

ISBN: 0-399-14604-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2000

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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