Intellectually if not emotionally engaging, and it’s refreshing to see a neophyte author taking seriously the passions and...



Sharp-eyed debut novel limns life in a remote Hungarian town, a post-communist hotbed of greed, envy and romantic rivalries.

During World War II, Allied and Axis tanks alike bypassed this unnamed village as not worth bothering with, but in 2000 its aggressive young mayor keeps inviting foreign investors to visit and finance local industry. (Results so far: one Dutch dog-food company.) Ridiculous, thinks Fitten’s cranky, majestic heroine Valeria, who at 68 has seen it all and has little faith in any of it. Her main pleasure is visiting the village market, bypassing the “Chinese boom boxes, Polish electronics, German cassettes,” to reproach her neighbors for selling subpar fruits and vegetables. Everyone’s terrified of this tough old woman, who denounced her first lover to the Soviets way back in the ’40s, but the astonished crowd sees a whole new side of Valeria when the widowed potter catches her eye. With the villagers commenting on the action like a voluble, mean-spirited Slavic Greek chorus, Valeria orders a magnificent pitcher from the potter, and they have a one-night stand that provokes the enmity of his girlfriend Ibolya, proprietress of the local tavern. A little old (58) for flashing her bosom and legs to attract customers, Ibolya figured she’d eventually settle down with the potter. Now the vengeful tavern owner incites a visiting chimney sweep to make trouble all around. Ten days in bed with the chimney sweep certainly cheer up Valeria, but when the potter comes back with a pair of vases, she understands that she’s his muse, and their shared love of beautiful things unites them. A final jealous outburst from the chimney sweep and more troublemaking by Ibolya can’t alter the inevitable outcome of a clever if slightly overdetermined narrative that emulates the fablelike tone of Calvino and Márquez, adding a heaping helping of Kundera-like sex and satire.

Intellectually if not emotionally engaging, and it’s refreshing to see a neophyte author taking seriously the passions and opinions of older people. Fitten has a distinctive voice and a promising future.

Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59691-620-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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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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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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