Reminiscent of Rodney Hall's Just Relations (1983) and, inevitably, of García Márquez, but a work of considerable...

DEATH OF A RIVER GUIDE

The Aboriginal and European antecedents and origins of the remote Australian state of Tasmania are powerfully evoked in Flanagan's superb (1994) debut fiction, preceded in the US by his equally impressive later novel, The Sound of One Hand Clapping (2000).

The story's told in flashbacks (in the manner of Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge")—or "visions"—experienced by river guide Aljaz Cosini during the final moments of the journey, when his raft capsizes and he drowns. Those visions comprise a richly layered narrative that leaps among such events and experiences as Aljaz's own birth, his troubled youth and volatile relationship with (half-Chinese) Couta Ho (the mother of his infant daughter, who dies in her crib); the histories of (Yugoslavian) mother Sonja and racially mixed father Harry, who met in Trieste during WWII, and the entangled misadventures of Harry's colorful family, dominated by such memorable figures as Harry's possibly mad Aunt Ellie (no mean fantasist herself, psychically attuned to both Tasmania's persecuted "old people" and the spirits who pursue them) and his grandfather Ned Quade, murderer, cannibal, and escaped convict, who is nevertheless sustained by his ironical vision (which permeates the story, in several surprising ways) of 'the New Jerusalem." Flanagan mixes these heady materials skillfully, focusing on illustrations of the inherited rootlessness and restlessness that have shaped Aljaz ("It had become easier, not belonging; he had learnt to cope with that, had made a life out of it, drifting"). And the narrative is enlivened by such magical-realist particulars as a funeral at which the crucified Christ appears to bleed, the image of a baby stolen and raised by a "sea eagle," and the spectacle of a bedspread permanently stained by a woman's tears.

Reminiscent of Rodney Hall's Just Relations (1983) and, inevitably, of García Márquez, but a work of considerable originality nevertheless. Flanagan's two novels rank with the finest fiction out of Australia since the heyday of Patrick White.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1682-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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