A zesty South Asian accent gives this lightweight romp some heft.

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DUTY FREE

In Pakistan-born, London-resident Mohsin’s U.S. debut, an affluent Lahore housewife reluctantly seeks a suitable bride for her nerdy cousin Jonkers.

Really, it was mean of her Aunty Pussy to pressure our unnamed narrator into helping with this daunting task. Sure, the family has plenty of money, thanks to Uncle Kaukab’s stint as “chief of central board of revenew” in the ’80s, but Aunt Pussy wants Jonkers “to make a big marriage, na, to a nice rich, fair, beautiful type from an old family.” He wants to marry for love and actually asks his cousin if she is happily wed. Well of course! Husband Janoo may spend a lot of time in “his bore village” and seem disappointed that his empty-headed spouse displays no shred of social conscience or glimmer of intellect as Pakistan goes to pieces in late 2009. What does she care? She has “a big house, servants, social life, status, cars, cupboards full of designer joras and jewellery, and so on and so fourth.” If only the “beardo-weirdos” would quit setting off bombs and threatening girls’ schools, she could seriously enjoy shopping and hanging out with her equally status-conscious girlfriends. Our heroine’s solipsistic diary entries aren’t quite as hilarious as the author imagines, though her mix of Urdu and English filled with misspellings and malapropisms gives a tangy sense of her semi-educated, privileged mindset. Readers may not feel terrible when the narrator and a friend are robbed at gunpoint as they’re having “a good old goss” in her car while a servant buys them fruit. But just as we’re about to write her off, she proves to have a heart and decides to defend the hardworking travel agent Jonkers has fallen for against snobbish Aunty Pussy. Her discovery of an ethical core is a trifle sudden, but Mohsin’s tale is good-natured enough so that we’re happy it ends with a wedding and reconciliations all around.

A zesty South Asian accent gives this lightweight romp some heft.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88924-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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