An honorable failure: heartfelt, unflinching, and oddly compelling. But this author has done, and will again do, much better.



The universal fears crystallized by 9/11 provide the initially gripping, ultimately limiting core material of this overheated tenth novel from the Booker-winning British author best known for her Regeneration Trilogy.

Very capably written and insistently readable, it’s an eventful narrative focused initially on sculptress Kate Frobisher, whose photojournalist husband Ben had moved on from covering the destroyed Twin Towers to Afghanistan, where he was killed by a sniper. Kate’s story soon meshes with that of Stephen Sharkey, whose own experience of 9/11 coincided with the discovery of his wife’s adultery. After divorcing her, Stephen moves in with his physician brother Robert’s family in rural northern England, not far from Kate’s home—and begins a book on the phenomenon of violence and our responses to it. Barker skillfully connects these protagonists and the acquaintances of each. Stephen falls for 19-year-old Justine Brathwaite, a vicar’s daughter employed as an au pair caring for Robert Sharkey’s autistic ten-year-old son Adam. And Kate, who’s temporarily disabled following a car crash, continues work on a huge statue of Christ commissioned for a cathedral—with the hired assistance of Peter Wingrave, a menacing loner (and hopeful fiction writer) with a violent past, who is Justine’s former boyfriend. Nobody heals, because Barker constructs an atmosphere so charged with real and threatened violence that her characters can scarcely breathe without screaming. Stephen attends the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague, where incriminating photographs display “Human bodies baked like dog turds in the sun.” The Sharkeys’ house is burgled, and Justine brutally injured. Robert Sharkey researches “treatments for Parkinson’s and dementia.” Barker’s characters share virtually no moments that are not claustrophobic, fearful, or death-haunted. Consequently, however vividly and powerfully their experiences strike us, they are, in the final analysis, simply not credible.

An honorable failure: heartfelt, unflinching, and oddly compelling. But this author has done, and will again do, much better.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-20905-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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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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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.


Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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