THE PHILOSOPHER PRINCE

A young man battles ideological rifts and barbarian hordes in the Roman Empire in the mid-fourth-century CE.

  This novel, the sequel to Cast Not the Day (2009), continues the adventures of narrator Drusus, a British noble who is drawn into a struggle against emperor Constantius—son of Constantine, who Christianized the Roman Empire. For Waters, the expansion of Christianity signaled a rise in corrupt leadership and shallow moral judgments: Various bishops and other members of the faithful come off as arrogant scolds, clowns or pathetically passive souls. Drusus has his own reasons to remain an adherent of the Roman pagan ways, not least because they don’t pass judgment on his love for Marcellus, a fellow noble. So he throws his lot in with Julian, the “philosopher prince” of the book’s title, who’s charged with handling the empire’s western provinces. As Drusus joins campaigns through Gaul and across the Rhine, Julian’s army pushes back German barbarians. But Waters’ battle scenes are brief and, for him, a little beside the point; he dwells much more often on the palace intrigue involving Constantius’ effort to undo Julian’s successes. Drusus routinely praises the rigor of Julian’s Athenian philosophical training as the wellspring of his greatness, but there’s hardly enough philosophy in the novel to justify the title; Julian’s talent is largely a capacity for high-flown oratory whenever morale threatens to sink. For a novel with the geographical and temporal expanse of this one—the story spans from Britain to Constantinople between 355 and 361 —it can feel dispiritingly flat-footed and talky, preferring to focus on byzantine power struggles over taxation and troop strength. In the midst of it, the romance between Drusus and Marcellus, positioned as the emotional workhorse of this tale, is neglected.   I, Claudius this isn’t. Waters’ research is solid, but this would-be epic is dry and caricature-filled.    

 

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59020-718-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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