Whatever its novelistic flaws, the rock criticism and pop-culture insights are sharp throughout.

THE GUTS

In this entertainingly chatty novel, the Irish author revisits some characters from the well-received debut that launched his career, but he isn’t quite sure what to do with them.

The publication of The Commitments (1987) established Doyle as a master of the Irish vernacular, earning its place on the short shelf of great rock novels and inspiring a movie that reached an even wider audience. The prolific author has since written some novels that are even better than the first, though his recent output has been more erratic. This represents a return to form, not quite a sequel to that debut and not quite as good but a novel that shows how the musical generation he chronicled earlier is now dealing with mortality, family, nostalgia and all sorts of issues of getting older but not necessarily smarter (or, in some cases, happier). Protagonist Jimmy Rabbitte, who formed and managed the Commitments, is still a musical hustler, but now his racket is reuniting and reissuing music from bands of that earlier era, many of whom he holds in great contempt. It seems that even in the midst of an economic downturn, “[t]he middle aged are still finding the money to fund their nostalgia.” There’s a hilarious middle-aged, punk-rock duo—a married couple who break up (the band at least) during every session—and there’s another very funny episode about Jimmy’s response to one of his more popular musicians and the affair that musician seems to be conducting with a young staffer—which requires a series of apologies when Jimmy discovers that he has misjudged the relationship entirely. Much of the book is very funny, audaciously so, considering that Jimmy is suffering from bowel cancer, undergoing chemo (while reading Chemotherapy & Radiation for Dummies), cheating on his saintly wife and watching while the country’s entire economy goes down the toilet. Yet, it is full of loose ends—a reconciliation with his brother, the attempt to fake a recording from 1932—that the author never ties together, perhaps since Jimmy’s is not the sort of tidy life.

Whatever its novelistic flaws, the rock criticism and pop-culture insights are sharp throughout.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-01643-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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