ENGLAND, ENGLAND

A mischievous satire on the marketing of illusion and a trenchant analysis of a rootless woman’s interrupted pursuit of authenticity are joined in a highly original way in this consummately entertaining novel, the eighth by the dependably clever British author. The major actions occur in an economically depleted near-future England, which almost gratefully succumbs to the utopian blandishments of Sir Jack Pitman, a visionary entrepreneur (and Falstaffian compound of Rupert Murdoch and billionaire Guy Grand of Terry Southern’s The Magic Christian). Sir Jack’s “Project” is a reconstruction of places and scenes familiar from English history, populated by actors portraying equally familiar figures (historical and fictional), situated on the Isle of Wight for the pleasure of sightseers who’d otherwise have to visit multiple real places. Barnes (Cross Channel, 1996, etc.) has a fine time devising the unforeseen consequences of Sir Jack’s scheme (the current King, on retainer as an incarnation of himself, is an oversexed moron given to harassing the likes of “Nell Gwynn” and “Connie Chatterley”; “Dr. Johnson” is a clinical depressive; “Robin Hood and His Merrie Men” inconsiderately rebel; and so forth). Tables are briefly turned when Sir Jack’s “Appointed Cynic” Martha Cochrane uncovers evidence that her employer’s monthly visits to his “Auntie May” are in fact sexual adventures during which his infancy is “replicated”—but Barnes’s deft plot has several further twists lurking nearby. And, to turn the screw even tighter, the Huxleyan portrayal of “England, England” (Sir Jack’s name for his “Project”) is framed by extended scenes depicting Martha’s troubled childhood (a history she scorns to remember) and her old age after “The Island” has literally replaced England and the question of what is and is not real in her experience remains unanswered. A provocative dystopian fable that’s also a superb vehicle for Barnes’s unfailingly fiendish riffs on contemporary political, economic, and sexual underhandedness and overkill.

Pub Date: May 10, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40582-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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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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