A brilliant entertainment, and one of the few contemporary novels savvy enough to treat religious faith both seriously and...


Minutely observed and detailed analyses of both an endangered marriage and an unfulfilling affair dominate this witty, assured fourth novel from the Booker-nominated British author (A Stairway to Paradise, 1999, etc.).

Television director Simon Beaufort seems to have it all: a thriving (if artistically frustrating) career, a beautiful and devoted wife, Flora, and three delightful children. But his family goes on a brief holiday in France, and Simon encounters—and falls hard for—Gillian Selkirk, a poised accountant who offers him splendiferous sex without commitment (she prefers “autonomy”). Flora, vaguely sensing some absence in her life, flirts, as it were, with Catholicism—and St. John skillfully plays off Simon’s infidelity and guilt against what he labels his wife’s “harmless delusion”—as the net around Simon tightens, and a coincidental near-meeting with Flora’s old friend Lydia threatens the artificial double world he has built for himself. What one wants to call this story’s hit-and-run structure—a breathlessly readable succession of very short chapters that feature sparkling and suggestive dialogue—perfectly conveys the fragmented and puzzling character of even stable long-term relationships, and brings into amazingly vivid focus the bright personalities of (the really unexceptionable) Flora and her clever, inquisitive kids (both young adolescent Janey and solemn five-year-old Thomas are marvelous creations)—all the while making something equally risible, contemptible, and heartbreaking out of Simon’s confused yearnings to become both a satisfactory lover and a better husband and father. This novel’s ethical and narrative judiciousness may be inferred from just two of the many fortuitous near-aphorisms with which its pages fortuitously abound: “Sex, after all, is a lot more than it’s cracked up to be,” and “There’s a lot to be said for the rules.”

A brilliant entertainment, and one of the few contemporary novels savvy enough to treat religious faith both seriously and comically. Put this one on the shelf not far from Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark: Madeleine St. John is of their company.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7867-0756-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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