LIEUTENANT-COLONEL DE MAUMORT

This first English translation of a novel left uncompleted at the author’s death is also the first edition to include all its partially inchoate, though consistently fascinating content. Martin du Gard (1881—1958) remains the least internationally appreciated of France’s major modern novelists, despite the 1937 Nobel prize awarded chiefly in recognition of his great eight-volume saga, The World of the Thibaults (1922—40). Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort, which he worked on periodically for the last 18 years of his life, was an autumnal magnum opus: a large-scale portrayal of his country’s transformations during and after WWI, as observed by its meditative protagonist and narrator, Maumort, a soldier, gentleman, and scholar. Maumort intuits from the new century’s destructive momentum a human flaw he diagnoses as the futility of the individual conscience, which cannot prevent someone who wishes to do good from instead countenancing, and thus perpetuating, evil. The author’s leisurely narrative encompasses exhaustive analyses of Maumort’s privileged childhood relationships with his cousin Guy (a wonderful study in adolescent egoism) and their troubled tutor; a disillusioning love affair with an exotic older woman followed by a bitterly unhappy marriage; combat experiences in North Africa and Europe; and the old warrior’s last days in retirement, as German armies once again march on his homeland. Maumort’s memoirs are buttressed (and interestingly qualified) by his letters to a beloved friend and by a concluding gathering of random reflections and aphorisms on various subjects that evoke Pascal’s PensÇes and perhaps even Montaigne’s essays as precedents. This is a novel that demands intense, perhaps repeated reading. Yet its doggedly heroic presentation of a tortured mind and soul hell-bent on understanding itself adds up, eventually, to a reading experience like no other. Martin du Gard’s great admirer Albert Camus called the older novelist “our perpetual contemporary.” This unfinished symphony of self-exploration is both close kin to its acknowledged models, Tolstoy and Proust, and a work of startling originality and innovation.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2000

ISBN: 0-679-43397-X

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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