LECTURES ON LITERATURE

Not really essays, not genial and general E. M. Forster-ish talks either, nor stirring defenses nor rhetorical destructions, these lectures Nabokov prepared and gave at Cornell in the Fifties are just that: he talks and reads, we listen (the same general approach—heirophant picking out the mystery from the dross—that Nabokov used in his own fiction); and literature is taken apart like a boxful of toys: "impersonal imagination and artistic delight," "the supremacy of the detail over the general, of the part that is more alive than the whole." There are diagrams and drawings, quiddities made visual: a map of Sotherton Court in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park; exactly what kind of beetle Gregor Samsa turned into in "The Metamorphosis" the facade of 7 Eccles St., Bloom's house in Ulysses; what Odette's orchid looked like in Swann's Way. The more specific and crammed the writer, the more specific and crammed Nabokov's lecture: Dickens, Flaubert, Joyce. He finds Bleak House's tricks delicious, the richness and the pity; in Ulysses he swats away the Freudian interpretations ("a thousand and one nights [made] into a convention of Shriners") in favor of the devilish intricacy of Joycean synchronicity: "the hopeless past, the ridiculous and tragic present, and the pathetic future." Where sheer lush orchestration is less the thing, Nabokov falls back on thematic layering and transformation; before Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" he is almost brief, enchantedly synopsizing although with microscopic attention still. In Nabokov a crankiness is always near the surface (here he rants against movies, even music); and he betrays a certain anxiety by detailing so much, as though a great work might try and fool him: there's something at the same time eccentric and regimental to his appreciation. But finally there is a personal, fussy, high rapture to these lessons and illustrations, not quite analytical (Nabokov was too defensive and contentious for analysis—maybe too brilliant, too)—more a delight in literature-as-camouflage. Distinctive and demanding.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1980

ISBN: 0156027755

Page Count: 420

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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