DEATH AND MR. PICKWICK

Dickens himself would be proud of Jarvis’ capture of so huge a slice of life. Humane and funny, though the Heditor might...

Beguiling, entertaining novel of Dickensian England, cramming most of the island and its most interesting characters into 800 teeming pages.

Did Charles Dickens come up with all those wonderful stories of his all by himself? Nay. Debut novelist Jarvis, a British journalist and adventurer, sets numerous Dickens-worthy tales into motion in one big book, some out of the mouths of beloved characters: “though even Moses Pickwick was not mad enough to tell the entire story of Prince Bladud to his horse, he did tell the story to one or two interested customers inside the Hare and Hounds.” Storytelling—the exceedingly arcane tale of the prince among other set pieces, along with a few shaggier yarns and the straightforward exposition of the narrator nicknamed Scripty—is central to Jarvis’ enterprise, but more so the teller of the tale, for among Dickens scholars there has long been controversy over authorship, a question that Jarvis complicates by placing Dickens’ first illustrator, Robert Seymour, at the center of the story—and suggesting that Seymour deserves more credit than he gets. The story is the thing, though, even if Jarvis invites us not to believe all the stories we hear: “That story doesn’t wash,” says Seymour, while Dickens himself “committed certain deceptions which, so far, no one had noticed.” Chalk it up to drink, perhaps, for the book is full of bibulousness as much as suspect tales (“his wooden legs wore out quickly when he drank gin and water,” “There is one answer: gin, Mr Seymour, gin!”), the two connecting in the very name of the author in dispute: “ ‘Boz’ is the biggest joke of all. Pickwick is written by a genius called Booze.” But there’s more to it than the sauce; in the end, this lavish story is a celebration of art and conviviality.

Dickens himself would be proud of Jarvis’ capture of so huge a slice of life. Humane and funny, though the Heditor might have taken a sterner hand here and there.

Pub Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-13966-7

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

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

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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 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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