Although the florid prose and pages of 19th-century discourse sometimes suffocate the story and may prove off-putting for...


Pritchard (The Odditorium, 2012, etc.) blurs past and present, male and female, living and dead, and reality and fiction in a supernaturally infused, innovative story about Victorian-era novelist Vernon Lee and her modern-day biographer.

Newly divorced historical fiction author Sylvia Casey arrives at Villa il Palmerino without a clear purpose. Her husband, Philip, left her for a male colleague the day after his 60th birthday, and her last two books have suffered mediocre sales. In fact, her agent has instructed her to write a book targeted for commercial success, something juicy, and Sylvia hopes to find inspiration in the historically rich area she and her former husband once visited. Living in a rented room at the villa seals her destiny: Sylvia becomes obsessed with—and possessed by—a long-dead writer who once inhabited the premises, Violet Paget. Born into an eccentric family in 1856, Paget spent most of her life in Italy and developed a reputation as an intellectual devoted to art, perception and the supernatural. (A contemporary of John Singer Sargent, the two once vowed to commit themselves to art as they stood over the body of a dead sparrow.) Her homely face, abrasive personality and mannish attire were considered repulsive by some, but she traveled in esteemed circles and held forth on a variety of subjects. Paget was a lesbian who adopted the pseudonym Vernon Lee and claimed that only male authors were taken seriously. She became enamored with two women during her lifetime: naïve Mary Robinson and vivacious, willful Kit Anstruther-Thomson. As Sylvia traces Paget/Lee’s life, the lines between modern existence and events a century earlier become distorted, and even the continuous presence of a dog that follows Sylvia holds significance. Pritchard's fertile imagination and presentation give new meaning to the expression "a meeting of the minds."

Although the florid prose and pages of 19th-century discourse sometimes suffocate the story and may prove off-putting for some readers, Pritchard excellently maintains control of a multifaceted exploration of lesbianism.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-934137-68-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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