Another unusual and original novel from Down Under.


This lively and increasingly engrossing second novel from the Australian author of The Salt of Broken Tears (2001) reinvents Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the story of a traveling vaudeville troupe’s impact on a remote northwestern backwater.

The action occurs on a single day in 1955, when the Blind Concert (a real-life group whose performances raised funds for blind people) pulls into the “one-horse town” of Towaninnie—led by an ostentatious Pontiac carrying aging “star” Leonard Barrington and his unhappy wife, a former concert soprano now very much out of her element. The opening chapters swiftly, skillfully introduce major characters, most of them are specific counterpart-echoes of Shakespeare’s originals. For instance, English-born flautist Amanda Jones, the troupe’s saxophone soloist and a suggestible maiden in search of True Love, is ingénue Miranda; the Barringtons’ scapegrace son Freddie, fleeing his gambling debts, will become the romantic hero redeemed by love; and the elderly “compere” who directs the performance, “his nose always stuck in his stupid books” as he contemplates retirement and the completion of his memoirs, is Meehan’s Prospero. The story’s most interesting figure is its Caliban: “the rabbiter,” a muscular, malicious orphaned recluse who lives in a festering swamp with his “beastly” dog Spot, amuses himself by playing outrageous pranks on the Towaninnians who loathe and fear him, and is himself transformed and exalted by the “magic” that’s displayed in the book’s lavish extended climax: a triumphant evening performance, following a day of unceasing rain—when “for a sacred moment world and stage were bound in feeling, and against all things of darkness.” It’s all more than a bit stagey, and the Shakespearean echoes sometimes feel forced. Nevertheless, Meehan’s constructive skill and empathy with his vivid characters’ makeshift vagrant lives make it all work surprisingly well.

Another unusual and original novel from Down Under.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55970-620-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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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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