Childhood lost, family and a world gone missing are the themes of this minutely detailed, infinitely tragic first-and-last novel by Italian translator Annapaola Cancogni (Clewes was her pen name), who lived for many years in the US before her death in 1993. Born on a yacht in the mid-Atlantic, raised on the coast of France, the quietly desperate narrator looks seaward from her Maine cottage as a young woman, reckoning her losses and the mystery she will never solve. When she was 11, she was told by her mother, Anna (in a rare moment of lucidity and maternal interest), that she had a twin brother, of whom no one else had ever heard. Anna never explained what happened to the twin, but for the rest of her life, the narrator has searched for her sibling. Although her father was American, he was murdered when she was an infant, so her mother carried her to Sylla, her ancestral home in France. There, the narrator grew up, surrounded by nannies and tutors, with her pan- European extended family, German and Russian primarily but descended also from an 18th-century Italian painter at the court of France. Tragedy and madness have dogged this clan across generations, but Anna's own fragile mental state stems from her husband's violent death and her prior separation from her cousin Pyotr, her first love, with whom she broke in order to marry. After the narrator left to attend Harvard, partly in hope of finding her twin, life at Sylla took a turn for the worse: Pyotr stepped in front of a train, and Anna had to be institutionalized. In despair, the family sold Sylla and moved to America, but, unable to escape the shadows of tragedy, they remain miserable and distant from each other in their new home. Fog-shrouded and bleak, this is a closely watched unskeining of a family's fortunes, in which powerful echoes of Proust and other literary stylists reverberate. Complex, morose, and chilling.

Pub Date: June 15, 1995

ISBN: 1-56886-008-0

Page Count: 300

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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