OSCAR AND LUCINDA

As he demonstrated in Bliss (1981) and Illywhacker (1985), Carey is partial to eccentrics. Here, he provides a splendid array of cranks and monomaniacs—with two of them, the title characters, living out an odd and tender love story. Yet theirs is only the central plot in an astonishingly complex literary performance that moves between England and Australia in the 1860's. There are dozens of characters and at least five important storylines, two set in the Old World and three in the New. Mostly, though, this is a leisurely and witty fable about the two great enthusiasms of the 19th century—religion and science. Many great schemes were hatched to try to harmonize the two, and so it is here. Lucinda, an Australian heiress, consults Joseph Paxton, architect of London's Crystal Palace, and then she and Oscar, a clergyman, set out to erect a glass church—in darkest New South Wales. The whole book is also a literary parody. Here, the results are uneven, largely because Carey has made some errant choices. His first targets are Fielding and Sterne. But these were 18th-century writers who expressed the energy of a particular moment: the last gasp of Merrie Olde England, about to be submerged by piety, industrialism, and red plush draperies with ball fringe. Carey is off the mark here. He fares better when he begins to parody Trollope. His style then becomes more appropriate to the material; also less facetious and digressive. Oscar and Lucinda (582 pp.) is sometimes too slow, and its energetic whimsicality can be grating. Against that, though, set writing that is far more often lucid and fine, beautifully drawn characters, and a remarkably clever narrative scheme. A brave and original novel.

Pub Date: May 1, 1988

ISBN: 0679777504

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1984

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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