A DOUBLE LIFE

Rich with wit, Pavlova’s only novel is a masterful sendup of high society.

A comedy of manners written in 19th-century Russia.

By day, Cecily is “so used to wearing her mind in a corset that she felt it no more than she did the silk undergarment that she took off only at night.” She is a good daughter, impeccably refined, perfectly prepared for high society. This is mid-19th-century Russia, but it could almost as easily be Regency England. Social strictures are stringently maintained. Cecily is of marriageable age; she may be too refined to even recognize her own desires, but her mother, Vera Vladimirovna, would like to see her married to the eligible, and wealthy, Prince Victor. Cecily’s closest friend, Olga, has her own eyes set on Victor—a match Olga’s mother would very much like to encourage. There’s also Dmitry Ivachinsky, a well-behaved but insufficiently moneyed young man. But with the right amount of prodding—by just the right person—Dmitry Ivachinsky might just stake a claim on Cecily, leaving Prince Victor open for Olga. Refined as she is, Cecily is blind to these machinations. It’s only at night that Cecily’s mind becomes unfettered, that her imagination can expand. Each chapter concludes with the end of a day; at each ending, the prose slips neatly into poetry, reflecting the state of Cecily’s mind. Pavlova, who completed this, her only novel, in 1848, was reviled by many of her Russian contemporaries. She had the distinct misfortune of writing at a time when the very idea of a woman writer was at best considered laughable and at worst monstrous. One of her contemporaries wrote that, in Pavlova, “there is nothing serious, profound, true, and sincere.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. Her only novel (she mostly wrote poetry) is brimful with wit and with sharp observations of the class in which she was raised. Pavlova has Jane Austen’s fine eye for social manners and hypocrisies even if she doesn’t quite maintain Austen’s level of subtlety. It’s possible that her own bitterness about her world sometimes thwarts the artfulness of the novel. She writes of Cecily, “Her soul was so highly polished, her understanding so confused, her natural talents so overorganized and mutilated by the unsparing way that she had been brought up that every problem of life perplexed and scared her.”

Rich with wit, Pavlova’s only novel is a masterful sendup of high society.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-231-19079-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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