A lively, multilayered novel that connects two uncommon souls to a shared past.


Bowl of Fruit (1907)

In Cacoyannis’ (The Dead of August, 2013) sophomore effort, a London man meets with a mysterious ghostwriter, taking him deep into his past.

Leon Cheam has made a lot of money in his lifetime. He currently lives in a large, semidetached home in London. His talent is painting Picassos—not reproductions but paintings so masterful they could be worthy of being called original unknown works by Picasso himself. He’s also a fan of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, so much so that he’s having some builders construct a replica of Gregor Samsa’s bedroom right in his own home. It’s a quirk, he admits, not craziness—“I am neither a lunatic nor a fanatic. My bedroom is an affectation, not a delusion.” He just wants to see what it will feel like to be abnormal. In the midst of this, a ghostwriter named Anna Tor contacts Leon. She knows about the Picassos, but she also seems to know about Leon’s past. She suggests she could write a book about him, if he’s interested, and out of curiosity he decides to meet her. Leon is intrigued: Anna knows his real name, she has eyebrows like his, and she touches on topics from the past that Leon has yet to resolve. As the two stroll around North London—a marathon talk that lasts upward of 24 hours—Anna and Leon reveal things to each other about their pasts that will take them all the way back to the beginning of the Chilean dictatorship in 1973. Cacoyannis’ talent for connecting art and literature with the personal lives of his characters is on full display. Leon’s artistic talent—not to mention the commerce of it all—is nearly a character unto itself, and recollections of difficult events are adeptly woven into the larger narrative. Anna and Leon are unpretentious, smart compatriots who stomp on familiar ground in London, and their growing connection, as well as the labyrinthine tale that emerges, is as unsettling as it is satisfying. The novel may not be as explosive as his first, but it’s nevertheless a unique tale about secrets and the quixotic nature of artistry.

A lively, multilayered novel that connects two uncommon souls to a shared past.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5190-2029-1

Page Count: 229

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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