FOUR LETTERS OF LOVE

A remarkable first novel from Williams—whose four previous books, written with his wife, have chronicled contemporary Irish life (The Luck of the Irish, 1995, etc.)—offers a powerful portrait of tragedy and of the redemption offered by love. Nicholas was a normal Dublin 12-year-old when his civil- servant father came home to announce he'd forsaken his career to become a painter. The full implications of that decision became clear shortly thereafter: Abandoning wife and son, the artist went off to the Irish countryside for the summer. After two summers of this and no income, Nicholas's mother committed suicide. Father and son struggled on, making one memorable painting trip to the western coast, after which cows destroyed many of the paintings, leaving the artist in doubt of his vocation. Years pass. Nicholas's own civil service career is cut short when his father burns his paintings, their house, and himself. Only one painting remains, a work that had been purchased and given as an award to a poet living on one of the western isles, and Nicholas goes to see whether he can buy it back. The poet's family is also familiar with despair: The only son, a musical prodigy, suffered a seizure one day while playing for his dancing sister, Isabel, and for years has been unable to play or speak. Isabel, blaming herself for his affliction, grew wild in her mainland convent school and threw away a good chance at a university education to marry a coarse, unprosperous tweed merchant whom she doesn't love. Nicholas arrives on the scene the day after Isabel's wedding, and his presence magically, inexplicably, begins to cause a shift in the prevailing winds of fortune. While a wealth of impressions linger from this debut, two words come most often to mind in describing it: Spellbinding. Brilliant.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-15817-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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