British author Blackburn (the nonfiction Daisy Bates in the Desert, 1994) offers the same wonder, vividness, and bravura of her dazzling The Book of Color (1995), if not always also that novel’s laser-like simplicity. It must be a sign when a mermaid, in 1410, is washed ashore near a small village in England. Even though she’s gone before the man who discovers her can run to the village and back (only a lock of her hair remains), her appearance is foreboding, and “people waited with growing apprehension for what might follow.” All of this, and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem that does in fact follow, is observed by a narrator of whom we know nothing except that she has lost a lover, has come to this village, and with a tender, never judgmental eye now observes its inhabitants—including the red-haired girl; the local priest; the person who remembers The Great Pestilence; the woman who sees devils; the pregnant Sally, whose fisherman husband dies at sea after discovering the mermaid; and the shoemaker’s wife, who sees her husband through blindness, then a miraculous cure, then a gratefully painless death. So it is that, halfway through the book, for one reason or another, a small handful sets out for Jerusalem, led by the priest and by the leper who appeared on the day of the mermaid, left behind a book about the Holy Land, then later reappeared, miraculously cured. Events and people both can be hard to keep straight in this shiftingly Under Milkwood—esque reconstruction of what it may have been like to be medieval, but vividness, image, and detail only intensify, then intensify yet again, through the suffering-filled voyage to Jerusalem, the visionary torments and joys experienced there, and the sobered return (though only of the priest and the invisible teller of the tale) to faraway home. Difficult, ambitious, demanding—and exquisitely, unendingly, depthlessly beautiful both in matter and manner, to be read not just once.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-43984-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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