Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Article excerpt

The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $24). Hazzard is nothing if not discriminating. Hierarchies of feeling, perception, and taste abound in her writing, and this novelher first in more than twenty yearstakes on the very notion of what it means to be civilized. The fire of the title refers primarily to the atomic bombing of Japan, but also to the possibility of transcendent passion in its aftermath. In 1947, a thirty-two-year-old English war hero visiting Hiroshima during the occupation finds himself billeted in a compound overseen by a boorish Australian brigadier and his scheming wife. He is immediately enchanted, however, by the couple's childrena brilliant, sickly young man and his adoring sisterwho prove to be prisoners in a different sort of conflict. In the ensuing love story, Hazzard's moral refinement occasionally veers toward preciosity, but such lapses are counterbalanced by her bracing conviction that we either build or destroy the world we want to live in with our every word and gesture.

Politics, by Adam Thirlwell (Fourth Estate; $22.95). In this dbut novel, sedulous dissection of a love affair involving a pair of young Londonerswho, with the addition of a female friend, become a threesomeserves as an occasion for playing with the old saw about the personal being political. Thirlwell, attempting to chart some sort of moral-aesthetic triangle bounded by Kurt Vonnegut, Martin Amis, and Milan Kundera, declares, "a threesome is the ultimate sexual unit. It is the socialist utopia of sex." The author makes enjoyable sport of the contemporary taste for porno-chic transgression, but, in repeatedly halting the narrative to liken his characters' callow problems, hesitancies, and dilemmas to episodes in the lives of Stalin, Mao, and Vaclav Havel, he sacrifices narrative engagement to the display of his own virtuosity. …

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