THE POLLEN ROOM

Said to be a grand success in Europe, 24-year-old Jenny’s novel, to a reader this side of the Atlantic, seems to be made mainly of youthful airs and posturings. When she’s a preschooler (in 2000, she tells us, she—ll be 24) and her mother leaves, Jo stays with her heavy-smoking father, who, as a labor of love, publishes books—and who takes up also, for a while, with the boozy and blowsy Eliane. Later, Jo is 18 or so and old enough to escort her reappeared mother Lucy to her shrink appointments—these needed, we learn, because of Lucy’s breakdown after the death-by-car (or suicide-by-car) of Alois, Lucy’s painter-lover. Exactly why Jo has gone back to stay with her mother isn—t altogether clear, but that Lucy is a lightweight mom and that the relationship is very iffy indeed are evident enough. The heavy significance of the failed mother-child bond that’s clearly felt by Jo, however, fails to translate into anything even remotely felt by the reader, with disastrously thinning effects for the novel. During her breakdown, Lucy closed herself in an empty room with nothing in it but gathered pollen—a fact that gives the book its title but little else, since elsewhere Lucy seems little more than a shallow middle-ager looking for a rich man and hoping not to get wrinkly too fast. Jo, meanwhile, suffering through her impacted case of angst, meets wannabe pop singer Luciano; street musician Rea; takes Ecstasy; goes to a rave; has sex; gets pregnant; has “the abortion—; then the breakdown; makes a last visit to father (a nonsmoker now, with a new, pregnant wife); and at end walks alone to the outskirts of town to watch the snow fall. Effortful throughout, and maybe even deeply felt. The result, though, is no more moving than a long pout, like living for 160 pages with a teenager who knows nothing and insists on telling you all of it.

Pub Date: March 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-85458-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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