Cot death, they called it, when two-month-old Beth Warren died, but in this bleak, near-brilliant first novel, it soon becomes appallingly clear that they called it wrong. Near brilliant. Two-thirds brilliant. Most of it unfolds through journals—three separate ones—kept for differing reasons by embattled members of the Warren family. At the outset, we meet Zoâ Warren, “the British Oprah,” a major TV celebrity who enjoys the role and all the pleasant bits and pieces that go with it. What she’s never enjoyed at all is being a mother. And then, unexpectedly, when she’s 46, baby Beth arrives, triggering a maternal response she would have sworn she was incapable of. Not that Zoâ isn’t fond of her other children—Paul, 14, and Andrew, 11. It’s just that Michael, her husband, a natural nurturer, is so much better at seeing to them. Beth changes everything, though, most especially changes Zoâ: brightens her, opens her, then shatters her by dying. Through diary entries, we follow Zoâ’s painful descent into virtual madness. The work here is meticulous: bleakness embraced and transmuted into drama by a writer at the top of her craft. When Michael continues the story, there’s no falling off in quality. He suffers. We empathize. Through him we learn that what had seemed accidental was in fact an outrageous crime. But who committed it? That turns out to be the story’s pitfall, since, as Michael acknowledges, “There is rather a shortage of suspects.” In the last third of the story, the who and why are revealed. It’s a process that seems overlong, simply because the who doesn’t come as news and the why strains credulity. Still, on balance, a remarkably well-done first effort.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-19249-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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