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CHAPLIN & COMPANY

Fellowes drives the novel at a leisurely pace and lets the characters unfold gradually and quirkily until we get to know...

A slow-moving novel—perhaps appropriate since much of it takes place on a narrow boat moored in London's Little Venice neighborhood—ultimately driven by characters...and charming they can be.

At the center is Odeline Milk, an artiste and illusionist who aspires to become a mime. She has an impressive collection of books by and about Marcel Marceau, some in French, a language she doesn’t even understand. Her mother, Eunice, had a brief fling with Odelin, a clown with the Cirque Maroc, when the circus passed through Arundel, in southern England, years before, and it comes as no surprise that he is Odeline’s father. Shortly after Eunice’s death, Odeline moves to London to try to earn a living as a mime; she takes up residence on the narrow boat, appropriately called Chaplin & Company, though not named after that Chaplin—it turns out that its builder, whom we meet briefly in a flashback to the 1930s, was named Walter Chaplin. She meets an assortment of other wayfarers, vagabonds, political refugees and alcoholics, chief among them John Kettle, warden for the Little Venice Marina; Vera, a foreigner who works at the local barge cafe; and Ridley, the easygoing master of the narrow boat Saltheart. Odeline has a gig in Covent Garden, the theater district, but it turns out that the venue is actually a pub. The performance falls flat, though by the end of the novel, Odeline finds some success with a more receptive audience: children. Meanwhile, she decides to search for her father the clown, whom she’s idealized over the years. When they link up at the Cirque Maroc, she heartbreakingly realizes that, throughout her life, she’s surrounded him with an aura of illusion.

Fellowes drives the novel at a leisurely pace and lets the characters unfold gradually and quirkily until we get to know them well.

Pub Date: June 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-87140-744-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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