Tasty but filling: a rich (too rich, perhaps) portrait of a time and a place that have received less than their fair share...


The first of a two-volume portrait of 1970s England, focused here by the prizewinning Coe (The House of Sleep, 1998, etc.) on a circle of four Birmingham schoolmates.

Perhaps it is a delusion to suppose that we write our own histories. The author seems to suggest so by unfolding his narrative from the perspective of the children of two of the protagonists, who meet in Berlin, in 2003, and reminisce about their parents, who were young so long ago, in “a world without mobiles or videos or Playstations or even faxes.” The friends—Phillip, Benjamin, Harding, and Douglas—met at King William’s, a “fucking toff’s academy” in Birmingham, during the dreary decade that brought bad clothes, racial guilt, and good stereo systems to the farthest corners of the Queen’s realm. The early 1970s were dominated by labor strife, the unions taking a final bow and bringing down governments and paralyzing life for everyone with their strikes. Not all of the boys at King William’s are preppie brats, however—Douglas’s father Bill Anderton works at the troubled British Leyland factory—and even their fustiest schoolmasters support the Labour Party. The most reactionary elements in Birmingham, in fact, are to be found farther down the social scale, in those like shop steward Roy Slater (Bill Anderton’s nemesis) and his racist friends from the National Front. Much of the historical background—the wedding of Princess Anne, for example, or the political fall of Enoch Powell—may be unfamiliar to Americans, but the story’s basic outlines (young people discovering the world and following the course of their lives) are amiable and clear. Eventually, the focus becomes the shy Benjamin and his hopeless love for Cicely. There’s a happy ending of sorts, but plenty of questions wait for Part II.

Tasty but filling: a rich (too rich, perhaps) portrait of a time and a place that have received less than their fair share of literary attention.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41383-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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