An entertaining conceit, if modestly executed: More a mash note to memory and literary culture than a full-bodied novel.


An ailing novelist and actor tangles with the ghosts of parents, past lovers and a host of literary heroes.

Seventy-year-old Harry Chapman, the hero of the latest novel by the Booker-nominated Bailey (Uncle Rudolf, 2004, etc.), is fading in and out of consciousness in a London hospital with an abdominal ailment. Outwardly, he cheerily banters with nurses and doctors, impressing them with his recitations of Shakespeare and classical poets. Inwardly, though, his mind is a storm of judgmental voices fighting to be heard—the loudest of which comes from his late mother, a harridan with a constant supply of reasons why he never quite measured up. She has plenty of company: his shellshocked war-vet father, boyhood friends and male lovers both long-running and short-term. Also claiming the stage—and enlivening this relatively static story—are a host of literary characters and cultural figures, from Fred Astaire to Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse to Charles Dickens’ Pip to Herman Melville’s Bartleby to Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin. Each brings a unique voice to the brief scenes in which they appear, though they all serve to exemplify Harry’s long struggle to rise above his lower-class station. There are flashes of humor in the story, as when a fellow patient arrives claiming to have stolen T.S. Eliot’s false teeth, and Harry himself is an appealing narrator, sage but unpretentious. But the book is also hobbled by the limitations of its setting—the episodic scenes never drift from his hospital bed for long, and the story moves so freely around his past that it picks up little forward momentum. Those famous literary characters, interesting as it is to confront them, swallow up Harry’s real-life relationships, softening his concluding revelations more than the author likely intended.

An entertaining conceit, if modestly executed: More a mash note to memory and literary culture than a full-bodied novel.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-821-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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