A gifted and prolific poet's second collection (and first US appearance) is a mixed bag—some stories imaginatively conceived and deftly rendered, others falling flat—but all here reveal Fainlight's dark and disturbing vision of what constitutes human nature. Together, these tales (19 in four sections) disclose a bleak world where sensitive children are misunderstood, unrepentant murderers walk away from their crimes undetected, betrayal and isolation are inescapable facts of life, and sexuality leads to violence or even death. Fainlight is at her best when she sticks closest to home, and the opener, ``A Wizard's Robe Patterned With Stars and Moons,'' explores effectively a child's illusory escape from a war that has sent her father overseas. In the poignant ``Malted Milk,'' a woman returns after 40 years to a childhood home that is scarcely identifiable in its modern incarnation. But later pieces wander off with no discernible destination and assume a stilted and lifeless tone that doesn't cooperate with their chilling subject matter. ``Soir de Fàte''—an older couple's intention to rape a young woman is cut short when they accidentally murder her—rings false, and the sadomasochistic ``Pleasure'' ends on an off-kilter note of delight. The stories in the final and weakest section enter awkwardly into a realm of fantasy and perversion, abandoning in the process any larger context: ``The Fish-Scale Shirt,'' a heavy-handed contemporary fairy tale, leaves the reader cold. By the last (and title) story, Fainlight's lost control of what initially seemed a subtle, haunting style; what's intended to be shocking and metaphorical is merely gratuitous. Fainlight's undeniable ability to create an immediate mood is prominent early on, but, overall, her disjointed collection ends on a shrill—and ultimately unsatisfying—note.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-85381-682-5

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Collins & Brown/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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