British author Billington (Loving Attitudes, 1988, etc.) sets out for a romp in this quicksilver collection of interconnecting novellas about a pair of lovers whose stars cross in five different time frames, but always in the same place. The Theo and Mathilda of the present are only sketchily rendered, like bookends, at the opening and finish here. They are a young married couple who purchase one of several dozen units constructed on the site of an ancient monastery in the West Country of England, and settle down, with Theo vowing that if they're ever parted, it will be ``only a temporary separation.'' His claim rings true, since the first Theo and Mathilda meet back in 770he a poetical young oaf, taken in by a ragtag collection of monks, she the daughter of King Cynewulf of Wessex, prideful, independent, but utterly drawn to Theo. Together, they build a church and connecting monastery and convent, with Theo as the unlikely abbot and Mathilda as the abbess. For years they struggle against their love, until Viking raiders finish them both off before any fleshly sin gets committed. Their next reincarnation comes during Henry IV's pillaging of England's monasteries, when Mathilda abducts the displaced monk Theo and has her way with him. Three hundred years later, Theo is an eccentric herpetologist and Mathilda his long-suffering wife; and when l980 rolls around, the two of them finally arrive at the fate they seem to have been aiming at all along: They're both mad, incarcerated in a mental hospital but embarking on a love affair nonetheless. Down through the ages, the Theo and Mathilda tales support Shakespeare's observation about the close connection between lunatics and lovers. Along the way, Billington reuses themes and details in entertaining ways, and studies a love relationship from a variety of anglesall of which makes for loony little valentine of a book, sappy but always intelligent.

Pub Date: May 22, 1991

ISBN: 0-06-016483-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1991

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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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