Lopsided, rambling and fitfully witty.

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PAST IMPERFECT

Dying tycoon entreats sworn enemy to find his heir in a sophisticated meditation on the British upper crust by Fellowes (Snobs, 2005).

Constructed as a minor mystery but sprawling over the course of several decades, the novel launches with a visit by the unnamed narrator to his longtime nemesis, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Billionaire mogul Damien Baxter shares an anonymous letter written in 1990 that reads in part, “It is also late and I am drunk and so I have found the nerve to say that you have made my life a living lie for nineteen years. I stare at my living lie each day and all because of you.” The letter implies that Baxter, long sterile from adult mumps, has an offspring to whom he could leave his fortune. The newly minted detective agrees to be Baxter’s inside man and access the lofty social circles necessary to track down five potential mothers: the poised daughter of an earl, a Moravian princess and a brassy American adventuress from Cincinnati, among others. Taking stock of the various candidates, the narrator pieces together Baxter’s story and discerns more about his place in a society to which he barely belongs. The whodunit element is solid enough, the dialogue characteristically erudite and the pastoral milieu likely to appeal to anglophiles and Englishmen of a certain age. But Fellowes bogs down his narrative in a quagmire of minutiae about the décor of English country houses, the social graces of a long-gone age and other period niceties that become increasingly dull as they pile up. The appeal of this overly detailed social history is likely to be lost on the average reader.

Lopsided, rambling and fitfully witty.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-57068-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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