An amusingly fast-paced, if willfully deranged, parody of the spy thriller genre, by the prizewinning author of Cherokee (1987) and Double Jeopardy (1993). Winner of both France's Prix MÇdicis and the 1990 European Literature Prize, this is a comic-surrealist romp, long on ingenuity and short on conventional logic and unity, done up in the agreeably eccentric manner of Raymond Queneau, with nods in the direction of the experimentalist Ou Li Po group of writers (which Queneau inspired), whose best-known member was the late Georges Perec. When Franck Chopin, an entomologist who dresses like Oscar Wilde and moonlights as a ``spook,'' is enlisted by the mysterious Colonel Seck to dog the footsteps of the even more mysterious economist Vital Veber, the stage is set for an intricate cat-and- mouse game that takes Chopin to such unmapped and alien territories as the Parc Palace du Lac, a hotel that isn't listed in any of the guidebooks. Similar confusions attach to Chopin's reluctant mistress Suzy Clair, her missing husband Oswald (who will of course turn up when least expected), a closemouthed ``cryptanalyst,'' a menacing beauty who turns out to have been the former Miss Sebastopol, and an aggressively physically fit thug whose code name is ``B-12.'' It all ends with a byzantine ``exchange'' that mystifies more than it resolves and with the befuddled Chopin's recognition of ``his status as pawn, as bit player.'' The equally befuddled reader may share that sentiment, but will probably have a fine good time anyway. Though Echenoz scorns to explain overmuch, he fills this gracefully loony book with fresh and appealing comic detail, limned with zany lyricism and eye-catching metaphors (a heavy rain ends, as ``the sky finished wringing itself out''). Polizzotti's translation effectively captures Echenoz's infectious love of verbal and narrative juxtapositions, and provides relatively easy entry into the world of a uniquely clever and likable novelist.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56792-054-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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