A pleasing modern-day addition to the venerable lineage of the English social novel, easily the equal of Trollope or...

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THE CLOSED CIRCLE

Benjamin Trotter, his friends and family return, even more at sea in a transformed Britain than they were 20 years ago at the close of The Rotters’ Club (2002).

The sharp eye for the socioeconomic landscape that distinguished Coe’s previous outing is also quickly evident here, as Claire Newman describes London in December 1999: “There are vast numbers of people who don’t work in this city anymore, in the sense of making things or selling things. All that seems to be considered rather old-fashioned.” Claire has returned after years living in Italy, but her school chum Benjamin is just as bemused back in their hometown, Birmingham, where he’s senior partner in an accounting firm, still working on the novel that was supposed to make his name decades ago and still mooning over Cicely Boyd, though he’s been married to long-suffering Emily for years. Benjamin may have retained the socialist values of their parents, but he’s just as self-absorbed as younger brother Paul, an eager-beaver junior member of Tony Blair’s business-friendly New Labor government. Both men are fascinated by a young woman named Malvina, who becomes Paul’s “media advisor” and later his lover before a heavily foreshadowed revelation about her parentage provides the story’s climax. There are several other flamboyant plot twists involving members of the once-close, now slightly ill-at-ease circle of friends that also includes journalists Doug Anderton (by this time married to an aristocrat) and Philip Chase (Claire’s ex). But the real point here is Coe’s acid, bitingly funny portrait of early-21st century Britain, where the cradle-to-grave welfare state has been abandoned as “a now comically outdated democratic ideal” and cab drivers knowledgably discuss varieties of wine (“Australian Shiraz, you know, something fruity and mellow”). His characters never come quite as vividly to life, though they’re generally decent, intelligent, well-meaning people with believable personalities and problems.

A pleasing modern-day addition to the venerable lineage of the English social novel, easily the equal of Trollope or Galsworthy, though without the imaginative fire of Dickens.

Pub Date: May 31, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-41415-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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