Kureishi is smart about book culture and relationships in a novel that fails to satisfyingly merge both.

THE LAST WORD

A man opts to live with the famous—and famously prickly—author he’s writing a biography about. Whoops.

Kureishi’s seventh novel (Something To Tell You, 2008, etc.) is focused on Harry, a rising young British author who’s been all but strong-armed by his agent to write a biography of Mamoon, an Anglo-Indian writer whose intellectual rages are nearly as famous as tales of his noxious relationships with women. (There’s a furious former mistress and rumors he drove his first wife to an early grave.) The agent has put Harry in an impossible spot, demanding that the book deliver sordid details about Mamoon while giving his second wife, Liana, the right to take a pass at the manuscript. Gamely embedding himself in the writer’s manse in the countryside outside London, Harry is soon tangled in complications: Mamoon isn’t interested in interviews, Liana is steering him away from talking with the ex-mistress, and Harry pursues a fling with one of Mamoon’s housecleaners (never mind he has a girlfriend). Much of the talk in this novel circles around fidelity: “[A]dultery—pleasure plus betrayal—is the only fun left to us,” Mamoon intones. Harry drifts toward his subject’s way of thinking, which Kureishi milks for both humor and pathos. But Kureishi’s interest in the moral messes of our private lives leads to a novel that never quite settles into a groove. Is it a literary satire, as the agent’s Mephistophelean antics suggest? An upstairs-downstairs tale, focused as it is on tensions between the wealthy owners and the help? Or is it an infidelity tale, marked by Harry’s sexual abandon and ultimate reckoning? A bit of all three, though not quite enough of any one. Kureishi aims to smash preconceptions about literary greatness but only lands glancing blows.

Kureishi is smart about book culture and relationships in a novel that fails to satisfyingly merge both.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7920-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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While the love triangle is interesting, perhaps most compelling is the story of one woman's single-minded pursuit of her...

LITTLE GODS

Love and ambition clash in a novel depicting China's turbulent 1980s.

Jin's debut is at heart a mystery, as a young Chinese American woman returns to China to try to understand her recently deceased mother's decisions and to find her biological father. Liya grew up with a single mother, the brilliant but troubled physicist Su Lan, who refused to talk about Liya's missing father. Mother and daughter grew increasingly estranged as Su Lan obsessed over her theoretical research. Complicating Liya's search for truth is the fact she was born in Beijing on June 4, 1989, the very night of the government crackdown on the protesters at Tiananmen Square. Su Lan changed Liya's birth year on her papers to obscure this fact in America. The reader is meant to wonder if Liya's father perhaps died during the crackdown. However, this is not a novel about the idealism of the student reform movement or even the decisions behind the government's use of lethal force. Instead Jin focuses on the personalities of three students: the young Su Lan as well as Zhang Bo and Li Yongzong, two of her high school classmates who were rivals for her affection. The novel shifts point of view and jumps back and forth in time, obscuring vital pieces of information from the reader in order to prolong the mystery. Not all the plot contrivances make sense, but Su Lan is a fascinating character of a type rarely seen in fiction, an ambitious woman whose intellect and drive allow her to envision changing the very nature of time. The title refers to the thoughts of a nurse, musing about the similarities that she sees between the Tiananmen student demonstrators and the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution: "A hunger for revolution, any Great Revolution, whatever it stands for, so long as where you stand is behind its angry fist. Little gods, she thinks."

While the love triangle is interesting, perhaps most compelling is the story of one woman's single-minded pursuit of her ambition.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-293595-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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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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