SLOWNESS

Elegantly fashioned and almost forbiddingly urbane new novel, written in French, by the renowned Czech author of such ironical and sophisticated fictions as The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1980) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). Kundera is nothing if not a theoretical writer, and he is here concerned with the contrast between older and newer ways of thinking and feeling—specifically with the now devalued ideal of hedonism in a culture whose embrace of ``speed'' as the measure of all things denies us the possibility of having experiences at leisure and recollecting them in tranquility (or, as his unnamed narrator complains, ``Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?''). The idea is explored in two contrasting stories, each of which is embellished by discursive commentary. One, set in 18th-century France, and bearing acknowledged resemblances to Pierre Cholderos de Laclos's classic Les Liaisons dangereuses, recounts the amorous education given a delighted young nobleman by his relaxed, worldly-wise mistress. The other, set in the same locale (then a ``country chateau,'' now a hotel), describes the comical interactions of a group of intellectuals gathered for an entomological conference and variously involved with one another. Memorable participants include a would-be libertine whose bad habit of thinking prevents him from having sex, a woman filmmaker whose romantic unhappiness locks her into two mutually abusive relationships, and a Czech scientist whose pride in his dissident political status takes the curious ancillary form of a very nearly neurotic worship of the body. They're all riddled with a self- defeating tendency to second-guess their own spontaneous impulses- -unhappy avatars of this bleakly monitory novel's declaration that ``When things happen too fast nobody can be certain about anything . . . not even about himself.'' Dependably inventive and amusing, especially in its delicious sensitivity to the convolutions of contemporary self-consciousness, the novel is nevertheless overly argumentative and ever so slightly preening, brief as it is. Not vintage Kundera. (First printing of 100,000; $100,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: May 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-017369-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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