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Informed and sympathetic portrait of a genius struggling to complete his life’s work, no matter what.

An admiring, even loving, look at the dying Marcel Proust’s final six months, with many glances backward (and sometimes askance) at the novelist’s family and friends.

British historian Davenport-Hines (The Pursuit of Oblivion, 2002, etc.) begins with a terrific set piece: a description of the lavish party at the Majestic Hotel in Paris arranged on May 18, 1922, by Violet and Sydney Schiff, to honor the Ballets Russes’ first public performance of Le Renard. The guest list included many of the artistic geniuses of the early 20th century, including Igor Stravinsky (the ballet’s composer), Serge Diaghilev (the dance company’s impresario), James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and the late-arriving Proust. (The Schiffs get their own chapter later, in which they are chided for their sometimes unwelcome intrusions on the writer in his last days.) Chapter Two offers a quick look at Proust’s family and childhood. In 1908, the author tells us, the 37-year-old author settled on the structure of his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, the multi-volume work that would consume him until his last breaths in that famous bedroom with the cork-lined walls. There the sickly Proust lay writing and suffering and adhering to one of earth’s oddest diets: cold beer, café au lait, ice cream and occasional injections of adrenaline. Some interesting folks populate these pages, among them Jean Cocteau and Edith Wharton (an early advocate of Proust’s work). Davenport-Hines closely examines Proust’s fascination with the upper reaches of society and his views on sex, crediting Lost Time for opening world literature to unconventional sexual behavior. The author marvels, too, at Proust’s reputation in his beloved Paris. His books sold briskly, and celebrity quickly followed publication of the first volume. A final chapter details the writer’s death on Nov. 18, 1922, his funeral and burial.

Informed and sympathetic portrait of a genius struggling to complete his life’s work, no matter what.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-58234-471-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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