Baker’s virtuoso imagining of war’s terrors and privations is not quite matched by her depiction of a unique, consistently...

A COUNTRY ROAD, A TREE

The experiences of a struggling Irish writer in France during World War II—joining the Resistance, fleeing the Gestapo, risking everything again after escaping to the free zone—will help shape his groundbreaking literary future, suggests this novel based on the life of Samuel Beckett.

Having turned Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice on its head in Longbourn (2013), Baker moves on to more recent but bleaker literary pastures with a biofiction tracing the life of Beckett, the brooding "spindly giant," from 1939 to 1946. Before the war begins, the young author has escaped his difficult relationship with his mother by settling in Paris, where he finds work as a secretary to James Joyce, a partner named Suzanne, and a creative community. However, once war is declared and Paris falls, life becomes increasingly harsh and is further darkened by Joyce's death. Beckett joins the Resistance, his role to find patterns in scraps of information. But the cell is betrayed, and Beckett and Suzanne are forced to flee, enduring a terrifying journey to Roussillon, which includes an interminable wait by a tree in a nameless place, a woman who can't stop talking, and the constant agony of ill-fitting boots. These passing but pointed references to Beckett’s great works to come—Waiting for Godot, Not I, etc.—and philosophical speculations (“And so one finds one goes on living…”) are intrusive. Baker’s impressionistic character portrait works hard at evoking a questing, solitary intelligence during a period of physical and mental anguish and wholesale destruction, but Beckett is a world-class literary enigma, and any such attempt was perhaps always going to fall short of full-blooded conviction.

Baker’s virtuoso imagining of war’s terrors and privations is not quite matched by her depiction of a unique, consistently elusive artistic identity.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94718-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 16

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

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

Did you like this book?

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

more