A new collection that intriguingly sheds light on a famous legend.

LE MORTE D'ARTHUR

THE NEW RETELLING BY GERALD J. DAVIS

An updated retelling of the tales of King Arthur and his knights.

As the uninitiated reader will learn from the preface to this extensive work, the tales of King Arthur, as modern audiences know them, were translated from the French and compiled by Englishman Sir Thomas Malory. A version of his work was set in print for wider consumption by William Caxton in 1485. Then, in 1934, a second Malory manuscript, which was arguably closer to his original intent, was discovered in Winchester, England. This latest rendition by translator Davis (The Canterbury Tales, 2016, etc.) is a lengthy amalgam of the Caxton and Winchester works, retelling what he felt were the “best” parts of each. In this way, the reader is launched into his version of a wild world of knights, chivalry, horses, and bloodshed, with details that may be unfamiliar to many. The work is broken up into individual books; Book Five, for example, sees King Arthur battling his way to Rome, and Book Thirteen details the famed quest for the Holy Grail. Many tales center on the desires of particular knights, and for the most part, those desires extend toward the realm of combat. As depicted here, knights—of which there are many—seem to love nothing more than to attack, preferably on horseback. Jousting is the most common activity, and the text vividly recounts knights being knocked off their perches. At one point, for instance, Sir Tristan deals such a blow to his opponent that the latter “fell upside-down from his horse, and the blood burst out from the vents of his helmet.” However, although these passages are full of action, such scenes eventually become tedious. If anyone ever stops to wonder whether the life of a “Fair Knight” holds any meaning outside of fighting, it is rarely expressed. Still, for those readers who may be expecting a straightforward quest narrative, Davis’ compilation contains a number of unexpected elements, including some highly specific religious detail. Book Two, “The Tale of Balin,” for instance, provides background on Joseph of Arimathea’s involvement with the Holy Grail, and the aforementioned Book Thirteen, about the quest for the artifact itself, also involves an explanation of the parable of Jesus and a fig tree, which appears in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew in the New Testament. Davis’ text can be repetitive in places, and the style of the retelling, as a whole, doesn’t ultimately read with the ease of a modern story. However, many readers will still find it illuminating to see how Davis presents all the parts of the legend of King Arthur that the popular culture has ignored since the days of Malory. Indeed, there are some truly odd moments here; at one point, for example, the great Sir Lancelot kills someone with his bare hands for not letting him ride in his cart, and at another, it’s pointed out that Sir Gawain “loved all kinds of fruit, especially apples and pears.”

A new collection that intriguingly sheds light on a famous legend.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79460-760-6

Page Count: 726

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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