Not all of this collection matches that high level, but there's more than enough here to enhance Tanizaki's...

THE GOURMET CLUB

A SEXTET

Six previously untranslated, wickedly warped stories, all but one originally published before 1927, from the acclaimed Japanese master of bizarre and erotic fiction (Quicksand, 1994, etc.).

Tanizaki, who died in 1965, gives the phrase “child's play” a new twist in “The Children” (1911), which shows a young schoolboy becoming a willing participant in the sadomasochistic sport of his wealthy, spoiled classmate. After school they concoct new torments for each other on the grounds of the rich kid’s estate, drawing his older sister and the son of the family groom into the fun. But the forbidden pleasure of the piano studio, which only the sister may enter, proves an irresistible lure, ultimately giving her the upper hand to devise her own forms of depredation. In a somewhat later story, “Mr. Bluemound,” a beautiful movie actress whose young husband and director has succumbed to a mysterious illness makes a startling discovery while reading his will. There she finds the story of her husband's life-altering encounter with a middle-aged man so obsessed with her that he's purchased pieces of her films so as to exactly reproduce her body parts, which then become part of a collection of life-sized rubber dolls he uses around his house. Perhaps the most memorable erotic innovation here, however, involves something done with food. The title story describes the search of an aristocratic gourmand throughout Tokyo for yet-unimagined delectables, a search that brings him by chance to a private Chinese club where he is permitted to observe (through a hole in the wall) but not to taste; from there he brings back to his own gourmet group, among other things, an experience with bok choi and a woman's hand that is truly a classic moment in world literature.

Not all of this collection matches that high level, but there's more than enough here to enhance Tanizaki's still-substantial reputation.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2001

ISBN: 4-7700-2690-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Kodansha

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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