MOAB IS MY WASHPOT

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Fry, the British novelist (Making History, 1998) and TV and movie performer, turns thoroughly solipsistic with the story of his early life, taking us through his teens. (The tale follows, in large measure, that of the protagonist in his 1995 novel, The Liar). The engaging Mr. Fry admits to lies, thievery, homosexuality, excessive cleverness, and other peccadilloes in this boarding- school adventure that goes far beyond Tom Brown or Billy Bunter naughtiness. He revels in his proclaimed peculiarities, and “grieves” and “blushes” to confess to various youthful solecisms. There’s much about his first true love (for a schoolmate), “arses,” and the like amid the luxuriant verbal diversions and flicks of the author’s linguistic eyebrows. Almost unexpectedly, Fry expresses love and admiration for his family, who were, apparently, remarkably understanding as he worked his way through some particularly flamboyant juvenile angst. Adventure in his chosen profession of mummery must await the next installment, but surely Fry’s recently acclaimed impersonation of Oscar Wilde must have affected him greatly. Why else would he essay such epigrams as “It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.” It sounds a bit like a Wodehouseian take on Reginald Bunthorne. But what the bloody hell, it’s all so amusing, so ingratiating, don’t you see? Trouble is, on this side of the Atlantic the text is frequently as unintelligible as cricket. Only a devoted Anglophile could tell what “a First or a 2:1 as well as an inevitable triple haul of sporting Blues” at Cambridge might mean. And why his washpot, in which Fry “wallows,” is the same as the ancient land of Moab is not clear; the title remains a mystery. An author in the long and honorable tradition of English Eccentrics, Theatrical Division, presents his coming-of-age story. With all the wit and Pythonesque antics, his book will entertain the Masterpiece Theatre crowd—and others as well.

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-50264-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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