In a quixotic narrative that zigs and zags and turns back upon itself, an esoteric exploration of passion and love, memory...


Australian novelist Bail (Eucalyptus, 1998, etc.) offers a slim avant-garde novel with a narrative that cavorts through time and space.

Frank Delage invents a new concert grand piano, self-engineered at his Sydney, Australia, factory, a piano of "radical construction" from whose "logic and mechanical efficiency came the distinctive new sound." Delage travels from Sydney to Vienna, Austria, which he believes is the center of classical music, to demonstrate his invention. Delage’s piano befuddles Vienna’s insular musical society, but he serendipitously befriends Amalia von Schalla, a wealthy arts patron, then her husband, Konrad, a coldly dispassionate but prosperous investor, and finally her 30-something daughter, Elisabeth. Frank is forever misapprehending the women in his life. He feels sexually drawn to elegantly beautiful Amalia, who radiates eroticism but seems indifferent to him. However, Elisabeth, nearer his age, is attracted to Frank, but he's oblivious. Amalia alternately lures Frank and then rejects him while daughter Elisabeth attaches herself to him with what seems puzzling lassitude. In a post-modern, shape-shifting narrative that pushes Bail’s work into a near stream-of-consciousness dream state, Frank’s sojourn plays out in the past tense, a story told after he chooses to sail home on Romance, a German container ship equipped to carry a few passengers. The narrative unfolds and shifts from setting to setting—Sydney, Vienna, aboard ship—and from paragraph to paragraph and even sometimes within a single sentence. Bail uses no chapters, no delineations, offering the tale in third person. Exotic characters appear, disappear, reappear, including an art critic dressed all in black whose home burns down as he lectures; an experimental composer who destroys a Delage piano as it’s being played by a nude woman; and aboard the Romance, a newly divorced Dutchman, a pair of sisters and a quarreling English couple.

In a quixotic narrative that zigs and zags and turns back upon itself, an esoteric exploration of passion and love, memory and ambition is revealed in pointillist fashion.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62365-072-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: MacLehose Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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