Not much happens in Hermitage, for all its length. But readers should enjoy eavesdropping, especially on the philosopher’s...

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TO THE HERMITAGE

A love letter of sorts to the leading “philosophe” of the Enlightenment, as well as an urbane satire on the pretensions and absurdities of academe.

This tenth (and last) novel by the accomplished writer-critic, who died last year at the age of 68, consists of two alternating plots, one set in 1773, the other 220 years later. In the 1993 story, seven latter-day Canterbury pilgrims (including its narrator, an unnamed novelist and teacher who might as well be Bradbury himself) are gathered together for a scholarly enterprise known as the Diderot Project—and travel to Stockholm, then St. Petersburg. The varied group includes an overripe diva, a carpenter, a diplomat, and a skirt-chasing deconstructionist: representatives of Denis Diderot’s wide range of interests. Juxtaposed against their misadventures (which begin on the rundown Vladimir Ilich, the ship conveying them eastward) is the novelist’s imagined reconstruction of Diderot’s own journey to Russia, made at the behest of Empress Catherine the Great (who wants his library)—and of their deliciously witty conversations (presented in play form), in which the philosopher’s passionate libertarian views make little impression on the monarch’s serene political pragmatism. Bradbury attempts parallel discourses in the contemporary sections—but his oblique lampoons of academic double-talk and Boris Yeltsin’s beleaguered tenure are unexceptional (they’re in fact the kind of thing he did better in The History Man, 1975, and the Booker-nominated Rates of Exchange, 1983). Still, the best parts of this awfully overstuffed novel are its most discursive moments. Bradbury had a versatile, interesting mind, and there’s something quite moving about his reverence for the transmission of a broad general culture and his evident belief that the power of an agile, restless mind like Diderot’s can have influence far beyond the reach of political expediency.

Not much happens in Hermitage, for all its length. But readers should enjoy eavesdropping, especially on the philosopher’s attempts to “civilize” the imperturbable Empress. Bradbury’s grave and reverend (at times downright farcical) swan song is one of his most assured and entertaining performances.

Pub Date: April 16, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-131-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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