From Publishers Weekly
While this delightful new collection of essays is culled from 20 years at the New Yorker
, most have appeared since 2000. Thurman's writing in the past seven years, despite a tangent or two, displays the qualities that best serve a cultural critic: intelligence, curiosity, sharp wit and little tolerance for fools. There's an edge of imperiousness about Thurman, which is reflected in many of the people she writes about, such as the Italian performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Rei Kawakubo, and Madame de Pompadour. Thurman writes primarily about fashion, its personages, trends and history, but there is room in this collection for some extracurricular interests, too; in addition to some fine book reviews and historical pieces, we get personal looks at the art of making tofu, the history of New York row houses and a lovely vignette of an evening spent with Jackie Onassis, smoking cigarettes and talking about men. Fashion, no longer ghettoized as a trifling women's concern, has grown increasingly popular in our cultural imagination, but it is ephemeral, dependent upon seasonal change. It is to Thurman's credit that she not only celebrates the creative exuberance of fashion but, in her intellectual probing, considers its lasting significance, too. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
As intimated by the title of this collection of 40-plus essays originally written for the New Yorker between 1987 and 2006, Thurman, a biographer of Isak Dinesen and Colette, finds the union of the regal and the commonplace alluring. Guided by her fascination with portraiture and image, she is drawn to influential and controversial artists, photographers, and fashion designers. Taking their measure with droll insight and wry empathy, Thurman profiles Vanessa Beecroft, a performance artist who choreographs troupes of naked women; Diane Arbus; and Coco Chanel. But she is also dazzling in her inquisitive, witty, and companionable essays about Charlotte Brontë, Flaubert, Jacqueline Kennedy, Richard Avedon, Japanese culture, and, yes, Cleopatra. Because her erudite and earthy essays are often jump-started by an exhibition or the publication of a book, they have journalistic valence. But because Thurman's essays are so deeply felt and arc so elegantly from the uniqueness of each individual to the greater conundrums of humankind, they are, indeed, exquisite works of art deserving a book's more lasting embrace. Seaman, Donna