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Category Archive for 'Ic – Iv'

Daniele Mallarico, in his seventies, is on his way from Milan to Naples, where he has agreed care for his four-year-old grandson Mario for three days so that his daughter and son-in-law can attend a professional mathematics conference. Daniele, already late with the illustrations he has agreed to supply for a new edition of Henry James’s “The Jolly Corner,” has been ill, and he and his daughter have not been close, even during and after his recent surgery. He has not seen his only grandchild for two years, but the house where he will be staying is the one in which he grew up – and where has left ghosts – part of an elegant, centuries-old building overlooking the busy Piazza Garibaldi in Naples. Mallarico’s arrival in Naples begins author Domenico Starnone’s novel and is quite different from what one would expect from the above summary, the many blurbs on-line and printed on the book’s back cover, and the novel’s obviously “cute” cover illustration. For unknown reasons, the chosen cover shows ghostly images of a curious school-age girl exploring a modern, painted bureau, neither of which plays any role in this important literary novel. This novel is serious, not cute, despite its innate charm. Here the author uses irony and dark humor for his primary dramatic effects, contrasting the age and thinking of the elderly grandfather and his precocious grandson as he raises questions about how we become who we are, and what, if anything we can do about it.

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Winner of innumerable prizes in both Ireland, where he grew up and went to college, and Scotland, to which he moved permanently with his family during the Irish Troubles in 1975, Bernard MacLaverty has always had a special place in my heart. His writing is unpretentious, realistic, and often filled with ironic humor, even when he is dealing with the complexities of relationships and the honest feelings of his sometimes quirky characters. This novel, his first in sixteen years, is worth waiting for – a novel about an older, retired couple, Gerry and Stella, married for decades, who have pursued their own goals separately, while living together, and have now reached a point at which they must consider whether they are still truly in love. Wanting a brief vacation away from Scotland, to which they, like the author and family have moved permanently from Northern Ireland, they have decided to spend a few days in Amsterdam – or rather, the wife, Stella, has suggested the location because there is a special place there that she wishes to see. Her genuinely caring husband Gerry is amenable to whatever she wants, but he has been living recently in an alcoholic haze, and his primary concern has been hiding the physical evidence of his consumption from her. MacLaverty, combining both subtlety and sometimes outrageous honesty, reveals the inner hearts and minds of both of these characters at a variety of times in their long relationship, from courtship through early marriage, beginning careers, heartbreaks, and on up to the present. The future of their marriage is at stake on this “break.”

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Times are tough in 1950s Ireland, and the yields are poor, but everyone’s happy at least once a year when the traditional wrendance takes place. Donal Hallapy is a bodhran player, an expert in the ancient drums of his Celtic forebears, a musician in great demand at wrendances – all-night singing and dancing hooleys which can be traced back to pagan times. This paganism, the secret nature of the celebrations, the drinking that takes place, and the fact that the church has no control over them has made them anathema to “the clan of the round collar,” in the person of Canon Tett, an ultraconservative determined to bring them all to bay. A lively portrait of a now-vanished world.

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Set in the Greenwich Village enclave of the Macdougal-Sullivan Historic District, Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is pure Rushdie, while also being pure New York. His young narrator, Rene Unterlinden, the son of Belgian academics, has lived in this district all his short life while working to become a filmmaker. The spacious house beside him, owned for over twenty years by a mystery man who has never been seen on the property, has been in the care of professionals – despite its highly desirable address. On the day of President Obama’s inauguration, an “uncrowned seventy-something king from a foreign country and his three sons take over their castle.” Rene confesses that when looking at this man, he “thought of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster,” but before long, Rene begins thinking that this man might, at last, be the unique film subject he has been searching for. Within a few pages. the reader learns that the new residents are from Mumbai and that they have survived a terrorist attack which took place there in November, 2008. About a month after that, the family escaped to their “safe” address in New York City, having planned for this for many years. Rushdie is obviously having the time of his life as he creates and develops these characters, and he certainly enjoys the opportunity to set his story in New York in the heady days immediately after the Obama election. With his immense intelligence, his wild, non-stop imagination, and his ability to see current events as the basis of satiric commentary, he includes music, films, novels, folk tales, and classical references to expand his scope.

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Author of eleven novels for adults, several collections of short stories, many novels for children, and numerous screenplays, including the BAFTA Award-winning screenplay for the film of The Commitments, Irish author Roddy Doyle writes what is arguably his most serious novel, the ironically titled Smile. His characteristic light touch and his humor, even during times of financial difficulties for his working-class Dublin characters, are almost totally missing from this novel, a first-person story of Victor Forde, a man who once wrote radio and newspaper stories about entertainment but gradually found himself unable to write anymore. Like his other novels, this one maintains a conversational tone, but here Victor is talking to himself most of the time, as he tries to figure out how he came to be in the circumstances in which he now finds himself – separated from his wife, living in a flat new to him, not far from where he grew up, essentially unemployed and lacking the ability to see his writing projects through to completion. Slowly, Victor’s story begins to develop, and some answers to questions about his life begin to appear. It is at this point in which Doyle reveals some of his genius at characterization through effective dialogue. The surprise at the end comes abruptly – and even awkwardly – with no obvious preparation for the reader – and while others may be able to accept it wholeheartedly, there is an aura of trickery – for me at least – as the author resolves all the aspects of the novel very suddenly.

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