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Review-a-Day

Thursday, April 1st


 

Absolute Friends by John le Carré

The Little Drummer Boy

A review by James Wood

I.
Rather as Virgil promised that you could learn how to farm from reading the Georgics, so it must have seemed, at least at first, that you could learn how to spy from reading John Le Carr's early novels. One of the reasons that these well-written thrillers were so enthusiastically mistaken for literary novels was that, like their richer cousins, they opened a new world. Surely this was what good fiction was supposed to do — to make it new? George Smiley (a.k.a. "Control"), Alec Leamas, Peter Guillam, the "Circus" (the headquarters of the British intelligence services), Karla (Smiley's Soviet opponent and nemesis), "Moscow Central": readers fell eagerly on this glum but jazzy exotica, glum because it was intended as the prosaic gray to Ian Fleming's glamorous stripes, but exotic nonetheless because it was still about secret agents. Paradoxically, of course, such detail functioned as fiction but performed as fact: many readers probably concluded that they were encountering ...



Baudolino by Umberto Eco

Booklist

A review by Ingrid D. Rowland

In 1508, the Tuscan painter Giovanni Bazzi, known as "Il Sodoma," frescoed a cloister in the Benedictine abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore with scenes from the life of Saint Benedict. He peopled his paintings with visions of Benedict as a pretty blond youth of modest dress and well-turned limbs, his cupid's-bow mouth set in pious resistance to the blandishments of what the abbey's English-language postcards call "tempting courtesans." In the midst of this painted chronicle of the medieval saint's manifold trials and triumphs, a strange apparition stares out at the viewer, a young brown-haired...



The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

Carrie Bradshaw's Smarter Sister

A review by Sarah L. Courteau

At first blush, the heroine of Julie Buxbaum's charming first novel seems like a Sex and the City caricature. Emily Haxby is a 29-year-old lawyer with a glamorous Manhattan social life that includes high-heel-clad nights on the town with her gal pal, martinis consumed like potato chips, and couplings with her boyfriend in a Saks dressing room. As The Opposite of Love opens, she breaks up with that boyfriend -- a doctor who has the bad form to contemplate proposing and, in Emily's dreams, who literally tastes like chicken. Surely an affair with her own Mr. Big, Carrie Bradshaw's elusive soul...



Hard Rain Falling (New York Review Books Classics) by Don Carpenter

At Least, At Most

A review by Charles Taylor

"As far as Harry was concerned, Victor Ramdass Singh was just another Nervous Camera director, who worked tirelessly to make the audience realize at every moment that the picture was indeed being directed." This passage appears in Don Carpenter's 1975 novel The True Life Story of Jody McKeegan. No one who reads the eight other novels or the volume of short stories Carpenter published during his twenty-year career could ever call him just another Nervous Writer. You can comb through his work for flourishes and not find any showing off. Mostly, as John Wayne says of Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo...



The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

A Chorus of Voices, Mostly Unheard

A review by Meganne Fabrega

In most novels it takes only one strong voice to make an impact on the reader, or sometimes two to expand a plot. Three voices may liven things up, while any more than four require a quiet room and, perhaps, a flowchart. In Julie Otsuka's latest novel, The Buddha in the Attic, the author brazenly writes in hundreds of voices that rise up into one collective cry of sorrow, loneliness and confusion. The voices are of Japanese girls and women who were sent to the United States at the dawn of the 20th century to become brides of Japanese men who worked in the fields, laundry rooms and kitchens of ...



Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

A review by Joseph O'Neill

Whatever surnominal adjective Kazuo Ishiguro finally bequeaths us (Ishiguronian? Ishiguronic?), its meaning is surely settled: suggestive of an emotionally hampered, stuffily self-expressive individual — a Japanese from the imperial days, say, or a butler, or a buttoned-up British private detective — who unreliably surveys his or her personal past to tragic effect. Peeping through the lowered venetians of yesteryear (recollection as a species of voyeurism is very Ishiguro), the retrovert is privy to a series of partial visions that eventually reveal a life guided by calamitous...



The Docks by Bill Sharpsteen

The Docks

A review by John Pattison

One of the peculiarities of our high-tech society is that much of what sustains it is invisible or simply unnoticed by most of us most of the time. We flick a switch and the lights come on. We drive to the supermarket and find the shelves stocked to overflowing. How all this is made possible doesn't usually rate a second's thought.

The Port of Los Angeles and nearby Port of Long Beach are enormous and complex operations with a simple goal: to import and export (mostly import) vast amounts of stuff as efficiently and effectively as possible. Sprawling across 10,700 acres of Southern...



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