…Hilary Mantel's vastly entertaining new collection of stories…have their own special tang and quidditas. Even as one appreciates the suave authorial style—light, pared-down, technically scintillating, like the Olympic gymnast who nails her landing every time—one has the sense too that Mantel is working with some fairly edgy and complex private material in these contemporary fables…Mantel is…a funny and intelligent and generously untethered writer…
Smiley (Private Life, 2010, etc.) follows an Iowa farm family through the thick of the 20th century.
The Langdons raise five children to varied destinies. Smart, charismatic Frank leaves home for college and the Army. Steady, sensitive Joe stays home on the farm, its perennial round of backbreaking labor somewhat alleviated by such innovations as tractors and commercial fertilizer. Golden girl Lillian marries a government employee who gets Frank involved in spying on suspected communist agents after the war—ironic, since Rosanna's sister Eloise is a Trotskyist. Times are changing: Henry, the family intellectual, will clearly end up in academia; Lillian and Frank are both living in Eastern suburbs. Youngest daughter Claire is less vivid than her siblings, and the names begin to blur a bit as the postwar baby boom creates a burgeoning new generation, but for the most part Smiley juggles characters and events with her customary aplomb and storytelling craft. The novel doesn't so much end as stop, adding to the sense that we've simply dropped in on a continuing saga. Smiley is the least sentimental of writers, but when Rosanna and Walter look at the 23 people gathered at Thanksgiving in 1948 and "agreed in an instant: something had created itself from nothing," it's a moment of honest sentiment, honestly earned. An expansive, episodic tale showing this generally flinty author in a mellow mood: surprising, but engaging.
Stone is in Paris for the opening of l'Arrington, the latest in the chain of hotels memorializing his late wife. He's sorry to say goodbye to his most recent inamorata, Lee's deputy campaign director Ann Keaton, and he completely deflects the forthright advances of rapacious American ambassador Linda Flournoy.
The requisite violence is supplied by Yevgeny Majorov, who accurately suspects Stone of having a hand in his brother Yuri's death when Yuri attempted to throw a lasso over Stone's Los Angeles flagship (Doing Hard Time, 2013). … Matters come to a head when one of Stone and Mirabelle's trysts is interrupted by a masked gunman, but after Mirabelle shoots the intruder dead, there are surprisingly few complications.
All this, and much less, is played out against a generic Paris that, apart from the title and the dust jacket illustration, could have been St. Petersburg, Prague or Pittsburgh.