Junk food for spiritually oriented intellectuals.


Echoes of Brontë and du Maurier reverberate in this black comedy from prolific Franco-British novelist Roberts (The Mistressclass, 2003, etc.) about a thrice-widowed British woman visiting Italy.

Aurora, a 50-year-old lapsed Catholic, has bad luck with husbands. Her first died while traveling with a rock band in the 1960s. Her second, an architectural historian, drowned in the Grand Canal. She’s just buried her third, a devoutly Catholic tax collector who fell off a cliff. After spending a few stultifying days with her overbearing stepmother Maude (who insists on calling her Dawn), Aurora decides to visit her Italian friend Leonora. When they met 20 years earlier, Leonora was a feminist activist. She is now the abbess of a convent in Padenza, but not like any abbess the Church wants to claim. At Leonora’s request, Aurora brings to Italy the pistol her father bought her mother for protection 50 years ago. (The ease with which she gets it through customs is scary.) Maude also ends up in Padenza with members of her parish, including the disconcertingly handsome Father Michael, a proponent of Jungian synchronicity who plans to attend a conference Leonora has organized. Because there is no room for her at the convent, Aurora stays in an apartment run by another old friend, Frederico, whom she has always assumed is gay. While Aurora battles mosquitoes and other inconveniences (there is no hot water), intrigues ensue concerning convent relics, Church politics and secrets of both sex and identity. Aurora finds herself in bed with Father Michael, who may not be a priest, and romantically pursued by Frederico, who may not be gay. How she finds her happy ending is a bit of a shock. Aurora is not to be trusted as a narrator, but she is mordantly funny.

Junk food for spiritually oriented intellectuals.

Pub Date: May 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-933648-02-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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