If you long for your misspent youth—or didn't have one—here you go.

THRESHOLD

Drug binges, orgies, and techno…oh my!

“For my purposes, a novel is simply a long chunk of prose in which whatever is said to have happened may or may not have actually happened, even if the author doesn’t bother to change his own name.” So, now that we’ve got that straight, we can plunge into the experiences of “Rob Doyle” during a 20-year-long Wanderjahr. Irish autofictionist Doyle’s (This Is the Ritual, 2017, etc.) third book is a series of vignettes set in Sicily, Paris, Berlin, and beyond, framed by a series of letters to a friend, a woman also writing a book. His Geoff Dyer–esque lack of delusion about himself and his quest makes his report reliably refreshing. In Sicily, surrounded by beautiful women, he is so undone by sexual frustration that he finds relief at the farmers market. “I had the sense, eating those olives that were so plump and juicy that the eating of them was a rapturous, almost a sexual, experience, that I had never really eaten olives before, that the puny, meagre, olive-shaped things I’d bought in jars in Ireland were not so much olives as insults to olives, shameful betrayals of the olive experience.” In Kashmir, he isolates himself on a houseboat in order to scientifically study the effects of ketamine. “I imagined I was conducting important research at the limits of consciousness, but I see now I was just getting fucked up on a boat.” In Berlin, he dances all night at an immense sex club where “every freak in Europe had apparently converged.” As necessary as eating or laughing, dancing gives him “access to a state of unselfconsciousness. There was always someone older or younger, nakeder or weirder than you….” So is he writing “the great backpacker dropout novel” or “the great Berlin techno novel? he wonders. Whatever it is, it provides one of the wildest experiences you can have without regrets or hangovers.

If you long for your misspent youth—or didn't have one—here you go.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-414-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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