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

DEATH AND MR. PICKWICK

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 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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

THE UNSEEN

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. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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