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Reviews of Blue Ruin by Hari Kunzru

Blue Ruin by Hari Kunzru

Blue Ruin

A Novel

by Hari Kunzru
  • Critics' Opinion:
  • Readers' Opinion:
  •  Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
  • May 14, 2024
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About This Book

Book Summary

From one of the sharpest voices in fiction today, a profound and enthralling novel about beauty and power, capital, art and those who devote their lives to creating it

Once, Jay was an artist. After graduating from art school in London, he was tipped for greatness, a promising career taking shape before him. That was not to happen. Now, undocumented in the United States, having survived Covid, he lives out of his car and barely makes a living as an essential worker, delivering groceries in a wealthy area of upstate New York. One day, as Jay attempts to make a delivery at a house surrounded by acres of woods, he is confronted by his destructive past: Alice, a former lover from his art school days, and the friend she left him for. Recognizing Jay's dire circumstances, Alice invites him to stay on their property—where an erratic gallery owner and his girlfriend are isolating as well—setting in motion a reckoning that has been decades in the making.

Gripping and brilliantly orchestrated, Blue Ruin moves back and forth through time, delivering an extraordinary portrait of an artist as he reunites with his past and confronts the world he once loved and left behind.

Excerpt
Blue Ruin

I swung my legs out of bed and stood up carefully. I felt light-headed and hungry, though better than before. I decided to go and scavenge through the bags of groceries in the car, but when I got to the bottom of the stairs, I found a tote bag filled with supplies and a note from Alice saying I'd been asleep when she came and she hadn't wanted to wake me. There were some cut sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil, bottled water, painkillers, toilet paper, a toothbrush, hand sanitizer, fresh masks. I held the bag as if it were a bomb. It had been a long time since anyone had made me a care package.

One corner of the barn had been partitioned with plasterboard, and I opened a door to find a basic but functional bathroom with a shower stall wedged next to the toilet. I went to the car to see if I had any fresh clothes. An hour later I was washed, dressed and shaved, feeling cleaner than I had in days, but so tired that I had to go back upstairs to lie down. Almost at once I ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Like Red Pill and White Tears, the first two novels in Hari Kunzru's loosely connected Three-Colors trilogy, Blue Ruin stands alone as both a powerful novel of ideas and a compelling story. Although the three books are entirely different in theme, character, and setting, each focuses on specific cultural moments of the recent past. Blue Ruin alternates between the London art scene during the final years of the 20th century—in its exhilarating heyday of change, youth, and lucrative optimism—and upstate New York twenty years later, during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, which so sharply exposed the different trajectories of those with wealth and privilege and those without resources.

Kunzru is masterful at sprinkling surprising revelations into the plot, which will keep readers continually reshaping their impressions as more intriguing details are unveiled. This novel may raise more questions than it answers, but Kunzru is wise to utilize the urgencies of the pandemic—the very definition of an unknowable future—to spur his characters into grappling with their complicated pasts and imagining lives beyond lockdown...continued

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(Reviewed by Danielle McClellan).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
Brilliant...Coincidence is a dangerous narrative tool to mess around with, but Kunzru pulls it off in Blue Ruin thanks to the subtle characterizations and intricate layers with which he expands his premise...an exceptional work that finds new variations on the familiar chestnut that people aren't always what they seem.

Lit Hub
[Blue Ruin] promises to be harrowing and darkly funny. Kunzru has a knack for the nightmarish present, and few things feel more nightmarish than a forced confrontation with the past in the early stages of the pandemic.

New York Times Book Review
Kunzru brings his singular mix of dread and intrigue to his latest fiction, an intricate tale of artistic creation, greed and exploitation set in upstate New York under the specter of Covid.

Oprah Daily
Kunzru's [Blue Ruin] is a triumph of beauty and a true ode to the artist.

Time Magazine
A provocative portrait of a once-promising artist as a disillusioned man of a certain age.

Financial Times (UK)
[Blue Ruin is a] sharp dissection of the oily inner workings of the art world, and a compelling portrait of one man's desperate attempt to escape complicity in the capitalist machine ... [Kunzru's] portrait of east London in the 1990s has real texture, grit and grunge rubbing up against the crude new money of the exploding art scene.

The Guardian
Blue Ruin is bracingly intelligent and often just plain beautiful ... The seamy, drug-crazed, millenarian atmosphere of the 90s British art world, with its intermingled idealism and cynicism, is brilliantly evoked ... The use of artworks—a difficult trick in fiction—is especially impressive in Blue Ruin ... [Blue Ruin is] a reminder that fiction, at its best, is a place to encounter new experiences and dwell in big ideas. Kunzru is known for ambitious novels that bring politics to rich, imaginative life; Blue Ruin shows him at the top of his game."

Booklist (starred review)
Exquisite writing and keen insights into class tensions and creative dilemmas. Kunzru affirms that it's always a good time to live an examined life, even during a pandemic."

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A lively, ever-intensifying story of race, immigration, work, and what it means to earn a living ... [Blue Ruin is] a darkly ironic tale of two bubbles—an art world divorced from economic reality and a Covid era that segregated us from society ... A dark, smart, provocative tale of the perils of art making.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Kunzru takes on the excessive and rapacious tendencies of the art world in his dazzling latest ... [Blue Ruin] is immensely satisfying.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book



The Artist's Assistant

One of the many questions about the art world probed by Hari Kunzru in his new novel Blue Ruin is the notion of provenance in the context of a working relationship between a well-known artist and his paid assistant. Does an assistant's creative output in any way belong to them? Or does it belong solely to the artist for whom they work?

Mona Lisa side-by-sideArtists have long utilized the support of assistants, also called fabricators, but these relationships have changed dramatically over time. The great masters of old carefully trained their assistants as apprentices, so their working relationships were closer to that of teacher and student. In their masters' studios, assistants would be given opportunities to hone their own skills. There are many ...

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Read-Alikes

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