A debut made up much less of observed and felt life than of absorbed fiction. Let’s see what Knox does when he writes his...

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SUMMERLAND

The world of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan is re-created with a puzzling mixture of stylistic grace and slavish imitation, in a confident first novel by a young Australian writer.

That novel is also—as its epigraph and first sentence unmistakably announce—a detailed homage to Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, a classic portrayal of two marriages destroyed by adultery. “I am telling the story of my blindness and how I came to see,” observes Richard, the attorney (and methodical man par excellence) who narrates in retrospect the story of the ongoing friendship that bound him and his wife Phillippa (“Pup”—a would-be novelist) to Richard’s lifelong friend, “golden boy” Hugh Bowman, and Hugh’s beautiful, emotionally distant wife Helen. We know the eventual outcome of their summers spent together at (Australia’s) Palm Beach long before the full explanations spelled out at the conclusion—because Richard circles compulsively around various times in their shared and separate pasts, ruefully conceding the sexual indifference and moral weakness that allowed (perhaps encouraged) his wife and his best friend to betray their spouses. Knox has a gift for precise verbal discriminations and aphoristic statement (e.g., “ . . . secrecy can be as precious to some people as the air they breathe”), and Summerland’s many exquisite moments are often absorbing. But the best of such moments are lifted (adapted, if one wants to be generous) from Ford or Fitzgerald (there’s even a golf match during which a woman player cheats, as in The Great Gatsby), and the open acknowledgements the text makes to its sources do little to ameliorate the reader’s impression that he has encountered most of this previously. A pity, too, because both Pup and Helen are intensely imagined and credibly complex characters, deserving of a novel of their own.

A debut made up much less of observed and felt life than of absorbed fiction. Let’s see what Knox does when he writes his own book.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-28094-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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