With all the wit and stylistic aplomb we've come to expect of her, Spark casts a withering glance at some fringe characters who people London literary life at mid-century. But the merely odd—goofy publishers, fatuous editors, etc.—takes an evil turn, as this delightful comedy of manners reveals a darker tale of obsessions and revenge. What keeps things relatively light here is Spark's unflappable narrator, a young war widow who proves to be a talented "general do-all" for a number of publishing houses. Though only 28, Mrs. Hawkins is treated as "a matronly goddess of wisdom" both by her colleagues at work and her fellow boarders at a rooming house in So. Kensington. A compulsive advice-giver, this "remarkably reliable woman" also takes on the troubles of others, partly because her own obesity deprives her of a rich private life. All of her problems begin, however, when she lets slip a devastating criticism of one particular literary ne'er-do-well, Hector Bartlett, a hack whom she terms a "pisseur de copie"—"a urinator of journalistic copy." Her refusal to recant this catchy epithet gets her fired from her first job with a failing firm run by a sodden embezzler. Her next employer, the house of Mackintosh & Tooley, hopes to publish the work of Bartlett's mentor, a talented novelist who would just as soon be rid of him. But Mrs. Hawkins, all the while peeling off pounds, refuses to edit Bartlett's execrable manuscript, The Eternal Quest. Though she eventually finds work as managing editor of a highbrow quarterly run by two American refugees from McCarthyism, the slimmed-down Mrs. Hawkins—who now calls herself by her first name, Nancy—discovers that Bartlett is behind a number of strange doings back at the rooming house. A bizarre series of events involving her fellow boarder, a nervous Polish dressmaker, leads to the latter's suicide, the result of Bartlett's psychosexual manipulations, all of which have been unknown to Nancy, upon whom he hoped to wreak ultimate vengeance. A postscript set 30 years later confirms the power of her accurate epithet for the loathsome miscreant. Spark treats the reader to Mrs. Hawkins' common-sensical advice on everything from weight-loss and insomnia to marriage and religion. But the greater pleasure comes from the surprising tidiness of this gently moral tale.

Pub Date: July 18, 1988

ISBN: 9780811214575

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1988

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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