An absorbing tale in which the quest for self-knowledge packs a lot of emotional resonance.

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CAVE GOSSIP

A mild-mannered scholar confronts his woman problems by delving into the mythic landscape of the south of France in this searching psychological novel.

Karl Wisent, a 30-ish German man living in Paris in the early 1990s, is writing a book about Nietzsche, but his life couldn’t be more un-Nietzschean. He’s thoroughly under the thumb of domineering women, from the censorious nuns at the Catholic girls’ school where he teaches to his estranged wife Heike, who lives in Berlin and has denied him sex for years. He finally takes–or rather is taken by–a mistress, Hélène, who is firmly in charge in bed and out. She makes it clear that he’s just a “contingent lover” for once-a-week trysts to relieve the tedium of routine sex with her live-in boyfriend. Weighed down by feelings of passivity and alienation, Karl retreats to a chateau in the countryside near Avignon, where he’s surrounded by symbols of an older, more authentic way of life. He takes in Stone Age cave paintings, communes with a peasant family and helps out with farm chores at a local monastery. He’s soon swarmed by a cosmopolitan group of semi-invited houseguests, including Heike and her new boyfriend, and finds himself the odd man out in their sexual roundelay. But he does participate fully in the party’s endless informal symposium, which ranges across such brow-furrowing topics as Greek, Egyptian, Icelandic and Hebrew mythology, the evolution of consciousness, the immortality of the soul and the sublimated cannibalism rite we call Christianity. As Karl applies all this lore to his anguished psyche, the book sometimes reads like a cross between Joseph Campbell and Freud. (One bevy of latter-day maenads advises Karl to project “the spirit of the bull” if he wants to satisfy a woman.) But Harvey writes with a subtle, evocative realism that keeps the ruminations grounded in the characters and their everyday travails.

An absorbing tale in which the quest for self-knowledge packs a lot of emotional resonance.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4401-7189-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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