Meandering and unfocused, written with a labored simplicity that will remind many of another well-meaning Western chronicler...

THE SNOW FOX

A carefully researched if rather ho-hum tale about a Japanese courtesan who scorns all but one of the men obsessed with her: the latest from the prolific Schaeffer (The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat 1998, etc.).

Lady Utsu is a cruel mistress, as her aged servant Aki knows well. Behind closed screens, the women grind glass in a mortar to kill Lord Tsuronosuke, the uncle of her lover, Lord Norimasa. Knowing that the gluttonous Tsuronosuke will be unable to resist the delicacies set forth at their private feast is just the sort of irony that Lady Utsu relishes. Perhaps she will commemorate the occasion by composing a poem or two. Days later, hearing from Norimasa about Tsuronosuke’s slow, agonizing death brings a faint smile to her delicate lips. But back behind the screens she goes, passing long hours in sewing and scheming with the other women of the palace. She pines for a freedom she cannot have, composes more poetry, and so forth. When not glumly contemplating moonlit gardens or beheading people, Lord Norimasa occasionally visits her or his jealous wife, Lady Tsukie, and their seven ugly children. But Lady Utsu pays little heed—she has seduced Matsuhito, Lord Norimasa’s samurai retainer. Though loyal to his lord, Matsuhito finds the feral charms of Lady Utsu irresistible. Indeed, she is associated in the narrative with wild animals, among them a stray cat that miraculously survives a beating by a servant, and a magical white fox. Wandering through medieval Japan, Matsuhito meets just such a fox in his wanderings, which shape-shifts into Lady Utsu, and the lovers are reunited.

Meandering and unfocused, written with a labored simplicity that will remind many of another well-meaning Western chronicler of the mysterious East: Pearl Buck.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-05814-X

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

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 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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