Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THIS IS THE LIFE by Joseph O’Neill

THIS IS THE LIFE

By Joseph O’Neill

Pub Date: June 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-374-27590-4
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 A first novel from young Irish writer O'Neill, a barrister in London, whose hero is a sort of legal Lucky Jim at sea in the law. James Jones is one of those dreamy young men, secretly nurturing great ambitions but never quite able to pull them off, who lurks in every profession. An indifferent law student, Jones has been transformed by reading a book by famous international lawyer Michael Donovan. Thereafter, he reads everything Donovan writes and, after graduation, becomes Donovan's ``pupil'' at his chambers. For six months, Jones works closely with his idol, a man obsessed by law and oblivious to everything else--but to Jones's great disappointment, he is turned down by the chambers at the end of his pupilage and has to join a small and undistinguished law firm. While he does unglamorous, nitty-gritty legal work, he embarks on a tepid relationship with Susan, as plain and undistinguished as himself, and tries to forget about the stimulating work he did with Donovan. But to Jones's surprise, Donovan, rumored to have recently suffered a nervous breakdown, suddenly asks Jones to represent him in his divorce--a divorce Donovan does not want. Jones, who at last feels he's getting closer to Donovan and fame, finds the man as elusive and puzzling as before. And given his penchant for getting things wrong, Jones not only fails to understand what is really going on but is nearly fired. His own subsequent breakdown leads him to admit that he's been too much the dreamer: ``No one was going anywhere. No one, not even Donovan, had anywhere to go.'' Witty and perceptive--but too drawn out, too carefully crafted, and too repetitive to really stun. Promise, but without pizazz.