DOWNRIVER, (or, THE VESSELS OF WRATH)

A NARRATIVE IN TWELVE TALES

Winner of the 1992 Encore Award in Britain, Welsh-born poet and antiquarian-bookseller Sinclair's second novel (but first US publication): a tumultuous, frenzied, and mercilessly critical story of London past and present. Constructed as a series of interlocking stories, the primary focus is on the Docklands, a rundown wharf and warehouse district that was targeted for upscale redevelopment in the boomtime of the early-80's, but that the subsequent recession has reduced to an unfinished folly. The author as narrator, along with a handful of eccentric companions, accepts the task of uncovering whatever items of historical interest might exist about it, ostensibly for a documentary film, exploring the area by rail and by river in search of clues that will unlock its secrets. The 19th-century tales of a champion aboriginal cricketer, King Cole, who came from Australia to clobber his English opponents only to succumb to the London air shortly thereafter, and of a disastrous collision on the Thames that left hundreds of holiday pleasure-seekers dead are among many historical motifs woven into the saga, with futuristic scenarios of satanic rites enacted on the Isle of Dogs by papal and corporate conspirators being equally vivid. The depth of erudition and full- scale incorporation of book-, film-, and folklore are certainly impressive, but a troubling lack of cohesion in such diverse, unfettered flights of fancy is ultimately admitted by the narrator himself, who finally turns the story over to his fellow traveler rather than attempt to tie it together himself. Lavishly phrased to a point of self-indulgence, restless, and wild: less a novel than a frenetic tour of a city and culture that, unfortunately, leaves one coolly appreciative at best.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-42062-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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