Touching on the travails of birth and death among elephants (and humans), Echlin offers a tender, mesmerizing account of the last stages in a mother and daughter’s relationship. Called back from Zimbabwe, where she—d been studying cave paintings, Sophie returns to her native Ontario to aid her mother, terminally ill with cancer. The family home, bordering on a small safari-zoo, provides Sophie with fine views of elephants making their daily march from the barn into the snowy fields beyond—and not a bad view, either, of their male keeper, Jo Mann. She and Jo fall rather quickly into bed and then into an easy relationship. As part of the tale, Echlin surrenders an inventive “Elephant-English dictionary,” a tome Sophie is creating based on her infrasound audio recordings and bits of which, highly idiosyncratic and anecdotal, are interspersed throughout the story (a particular elephantine expression of longing, for example, reminds Sophie of the last lines of an Ezra Pound poem). Sadly enough, her growing fascination with the elephants, and her pregnancy by Jo, coincide with her mother’s decline; once a vital person, as well as an artist, the dying woman now simply withdraws into the seclusion of her room. Amid their sometimes disquieting, sometimes soothing routine, Sophie listens to her mother reminisce about her long-ago life in Paris. Then the dark presence of Alecto intervenes: an elephant researcher, he won his reputation by shooting elephants in the wild for the autopsy opportunities to be gained. The climax—a heady convergence of Sophie’s mother’s death, an attempted rape, and an elephant charging—ends up leaving Sophie alone at last with the elephants and her new daughter, settled and purposeful. A sometimes emotionally scattered debut, but the intriguing lore of the big-tusked, long-trunked quadrupeds transforms it into a lovely treatise on the noble compassion of animals.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7867-0610-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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