Vansittart’s alluring gem is an exhilaration, a sigh, a prose poem that resembles a standard novel only in length. Lacking...



A delectable work of lyric fiction offers an aural snapshot of Paris in the time of Napoleon III, glimpsed through the eternally wandering eyes of mythic trickster Hermes.

While giving short shrift to proper plot, Vansittart (A Safe Conduct, 1996, etc.) inscribes language on these pages with the lush attentiveness of an adoring craftsman. Hermes is a night creature, “favouring darkened pavements, thieves’ kitchens, backwater taverns at crossroads or in the remains of woodlands”; with amused detachment, he watches “the constant procession, cheerful, purposeless, stung into fresh being by the New Year promise.” Properly, Hermes in Paris is a historical, its story strung through the unstable, socially and culturally tumultuous mid-ninth century. Yet the period is less a backdrop to the action than a player in the lives of Vansittart’s characters, though they believe themselves both exempt from, and superior to, their time. The young journalist Charles-Luc de Massonier, pen name “Tacitus,” finds the mediocrity of his cultural hour offensive to his own clear genius; he fusses and fulminates and is ultimately brought low in a duel by powers much greater than his own. Hermes accompanies Etienne and his ten-year-old son, Emile, as they wander through their jobs, amusements, and afternoon fields of grass. As is usual with atmospheric language, the prose here is highly impressionistic, and Hermes’ voice caresses details as if seizing upon any permanency he can find: wine glasses, dinnerware, butler’s vests, and soldier’s breastplates exist as the vivid auras within which these deluded, vague, but touching human souls thrive. The substantial introduction strives but fails to locate the novel in any meaningful historical context.

Vansittart’s alluring gem is an exhilaration, a sigh, a prose poem that resembles a standard novel only in length. Lacking the poised densities of plot and character to ground it, it’s caviar for the happy few.

Pub Date: April 12, 2001

ISBN: 0-7206-1106-7

Page Count: 234

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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