THE HOUSE ON BROOKE STREET

In his debut novel, Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (1991), Bartlett explored contemporary gay themes in a shadowy fable-like setting. Here, the background is richly specific—London in the 1920s and '50s—and the subject, treated with a moody obsessiveness reminiscent of Ruth Rendell (in her Barbara Vine mode), is the repression and secrecy then intrinsic to most homosexual lives. The narrator is Mr. Page, a middle-aged clerk who, alone in his tiny flat on Christmas Eve, 1956 (when arrests for sodomy are filling the headlines), tries to capture on paper, in precise detail, the turning point of his life: his encounter with Clive Vivian during the winter of 1924. The two 20-year-olds meet as strangers on Jermyn Street, where shabby Page, a junior employee at Selfridge's, visits the Turkish baths. Well-dressed Clive is the heir to a famous mansion on Brooke Street, but the two men look remarkably alike and immediately, silently, recognize their shared ``situation.'' The subject is never discussed; Page comes to the mansion for a party, then tea, only to find the great house uncared-for and Clive alternately friendly, rude, mysterious. Finally, after Clive appears to have a breakdown of sorts at his 21st-birthday dinner, Page returns to the house once more—and realizes, when he catches a glimpse of Clive and his young blond servant, that Clive is about to choose passion and honesty over society's approval. Despite a tone and pace that suggest suspense, Page's churning reminiscences don't build up to a genuine surprise or revelation; the novel fizzles out a bit as its rather didactic shape becomes apparent. But Bartlett's storytelling gifts are amply confirmed here—thanks to expertly voiced narration (Page's prim restraint giving way to occasional bursts of sarcasm or erotic fantasy) and to a masterly evocation of time and place, with the house on Brooke Street an effective symbol of Victorian values in disarray.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 1997

ISBN: 0-525-94273-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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