Kennedy, Douglas 1955–

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KENNEDY, Douglas 1955–

PERSONAL: Born 1955, in New York, NY; married Grace Carley (an independent film distributor), 1985; children: Max, Amelia. Education: Attended Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), and Bowdoin College.

ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hutchinson, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England.

CAREER: Writer, journalist, and playwright. Worked as journalist in Maine, and stage manager in New York, NY; Stage One, Dublin, Ireland, cofounder, 1977–78; Abbey Theater, Dublin, administrator for the Peacock, 1978–83; Irish Times, columnist, 1986–87.


Send Lawyers, Guns and Money (play), produced in Dublin, Ireland, at Abbey Theater, 1986.

Beyond the Pyramids: Travels in Egypt (travel book), Unwin Hyman (London, England), 1988, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

Chasing Mammon: Travels in the Pursuit of Money, HarperCollins (London, England), 1992.

The Dead Heart (novel), Little, Brown (London, England), 1994.

In God's Country: Travels in the Bible Belt, USA (travel book), Abacus (London, England), 1996.

The Big Picture (novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.

The Job, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

The Pursuit of Happiness, Hutchinson (London, England), 2001.

A Special Relationship, Hutchinson (London, England), 2003.

State of the Union, Hutchinson (London, England), 2005.

Also contributor of articles to newspapers and periodicals, including Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Independent, British GQ, and Arena;contributor of radio plays broadcast on BBC and RTS, including Shakespeare on Five Dollars a Day, Floating down the Nile on the Oxford English Dictionary, and The Don Giovanni Blues.

ADAPTATIONS: The Dead Heart was released as Welcome to Woop Woop, in 1997, by Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), with Stephan Elliot directing.

SIDELIGHTS: Douglas Kennedy describes himself as a "travel junkie." Born in the United States, Kennedy has made his home in the United Kingdom for the better part of two decades. His travels have taken him to all corners of the globe, including Egypt, Vietnam, Cuba, Brazil, Tasmania, Australia, Macau, Morocco, Hungary, and Singapore. In Beyond the Pyramids: Travels in Egypt, Kennedy comments upon his love of travel, making his experiences in Egypt the subject.

The Egypt that Kennedy describes in Beyond the Pyramids is determinedly modern. In the opening pages, he states that he did not visit any pyramids or other ancient sites in his journey. Instead, Kennedy focuses on present-day Egypt and the cultural riches to be found beyond the typical tourist path. Citing Kennedy's claim that the modern Egyptian world is largely ignored by writers in favor of the ancient past, John Ure of Times Literary Supplement calls the author's theme a flawed one. "Egypt … has been and is the subject of endless inspection and analysis—much of it by travellers, academics and journalists who have spent far more time than Kennedy's ten weeks." Despite this criticism, Kennedy's book earned praise from other critics. A reviewer for Observer described Beyond the Pyramids as "perceptive and amusing, already a period piece such has been the pace of change in Egypt." Ure from Times Literary Supplement acknowledged, "Kennedy writes fluently and some of his reported dialogue is crisp and lively. It is to be hoped that he will write other travel books."

Kennedy returned to travel writing with In God's Country: Travels in the Bible Belt, USA. The book chronicles the author's experiences while traveling through the Bible Belt of the United States, recording conversations with a variety of people ranging from convicts on death row who had found religion to visitors at Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Heritage USA Christian theme park. Writing in the Richmond Review, Simon Peters described Kennedy's encounters as ranging from "the mildly amusing to the faintly disturbing (although many characters can provoke both reactions)." D. A. N. Jones of Listener commented, "He did not go to the Southern states in order to mock or sneer at people's religion: he is often impressed—happy with a black minister in Alabama who seems to share his Unitarian concept of 'Jesus-as-teacher.' However he is affronted, almost nauseated by some of the manifestations of faith. Distaste, even horror, creep up on him."

Many critics took particular note of the conversations Kennedy held with prison inmates on death row in South Carolina, and the ex-convict who is their minister. "Occasionally, and despite all the best intentions of neutrality, Kennedy cannot help sniggering at characters," said Peters in Richmond Review, of events in the book prior to Kennedy's visit to the prison. Of the book's content regarding the inmates Peters added, "Kennedy should have spent more time here, for it is on Death Row that the sniggering stops, and here where the bewildering mind-set of American Christianity finds perhaps its most paradoxical expression." Jones wrote in Listener, "Kennedy's account of these convicts and their worship is serious and moving." British journalist Gillian Peele concluded in Times Educational Supplement, "What Kennedy brings out nicely is that alien nature of aspects of America."

With Chasing Mammon: Travels in the Pursuit of Money, Kennedy abandons the theme of a specific place in favor of something more abstract. Chasing Mammon explores the world of money, visiting stock markets around the globe in cities such as New York, London, Singapore, Sydney, Casablanca, and Budapest. Kennedy offers the reader accounts he has collected in these travels of the experiences of individuals in the stock market and discusses attitudes regarding money. Commented reviewer Peter Jukes in New Statesman and Society, "Kennedy's subject is not wealth per se so much as those who gamble (with other people's) riches on the financial markets. At its best Chasing Mammon is a series of strangely poignant life-accounts from those who wait at the banquet, but who do not sit at the feast."

The final chapter of Chasing Mammon is the tale of a London player with working class roots who had risen to a power position, earning more than three hundred thousand dollars a year, only to lose his wife, his job, and his home. As a reviewer for Economist noted, "If his stories carry any general message, it is that chance is important in getting rich." On a more critical note, Jeremy Hardie wrote in Times Literary Supplement, "Kennedy gives us a little too much of authors such as Tocqueville, to reinforce what are now quite ordinary ideas about the American dream: the notion of restlessness in the midst of abundance, the perfectibility of man and the ability of the individual to achieve his temporal goals through commitment and honest toil. This is not well done. Kennedy is best at description and the telling phrase." Jukes noted Kennedy's "considerable descriptive powers" as well in his New Statesman and Society review. "Kennedy retains a wry, open-minded presence. His eye is refreshingly unclouded by resentment," added Jukes.

The Big Picture is Kennedy's first novel to appear in print in the United States (The Dead Heart, Kennedy's first novel, was sold only in the United Kingdom). The Big Picture is the story of Ben Bradford, a Wall Street lawyer. Despite his success and model family, Bradford is unsatisfied with his life and dreams of being a photographer. The realization that his wife is having an affair with a neighbor sends Bradford over the edge, and in a confrontation with his wife's lover, Bradford commits murder. The following chapters detail the steps Bradford takes as he fakes his own death and creates a new identity in a small Montana town.

"The Big Picture has to be the most careful and imaginative exploration of such a situation ever penned, from the details of how one convincingly contrives an apparent accidental death to the minutiae of building a new life," said a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Alan Cheuse of Chicago Tribune was less enthusiastic, calling the book "a perfectly empty thriller." He added, "The tone was just too flat and the sentences all-too-literal, despite an amateurish striving for metaphoric power," and cited Kennedy's "poverty of style." However, other reviewers did not share this assessment of The Big Picture. "What happens is handled with surprising sensitivity, too, particularly considering Mr. Kennedy's punchy prose and his brutal, edge-of-the-seat plot," said Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times. "So much of The Big Picture is done so well that you ignore its flaws and race through it, hoping it will never end." A reviewer from Publishers Weekly assessed the book similarly. "This astonishingly assured first novel has a breathless readability that is rare. This headlong novel grips like a vise."

Kennedy's third novel, The Job, was published in 1998. The protagonist of the work is Ned Allen, a well-to-do salesman for a computer trade magazine, whose marriage is failing. When a German company purchases his firm, Ned suddenly finds himself without a job or friends or a wife. An old school friend invites Ned to work for his company, which is led by a well known, disreputable real estate magnate. In desperation, Ned accepts this serendipitous, too-good-to-be-true job offer, and soon finds himself involved in a money-laundering scandal and murder.

Literary critics held differing opinions of the book. According to a critic in Publishers Weekly, the novel is "an overplotted … homage to Grisham," but "Kennedy can certainly make the pages turn." The Job is "marked by black-and-white characters and unbelievable plot twists," noted a reviewer in Entertainment Weekly. A People Weekly contributor commented that although Kennedy's "writing lacks polish," he demonstrates an ability to transform "everyday upper-middle-class woes into ingenious life-or-death situations." Vanessa Bush of Booklist appreciated Kennedy's descriptions of the life and dilemmas of the victims of corporate downsizing. She said: "This is a quick-paced, fascinating look at the cutthroat world of salesmanship."

In The Pursuit of Happiness, Kennedy leaves behind the themes of murder and intrigue and delves into the period of American history between the end of World War II and the McCarthy era's final years. The story is narrated by two women, Sara Smythe and Kate Malone. Sara tells the story of how she fell in love with Kate's father after a one-night affair and how Jack never answered her letters after he went off to the war. She later meets him in New York, while he is strolling through Central Park with his wife and young child. Sara and Jack become involved again, despite his familial constraints, and their affair only brings misery to his family and to Sara's brother, Eric, who is a Bohemian intellectual being watched by members of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Benjamin Markovits of the Times Literary Supplement commented: "The novel's prose style is workmanlike, built rather for use than beauty." The reviewer felt that "Kennedy's strength lies in the accumulation of fact that supports the story." Markovits noted that the book "is well served by [its] women narrators…. [T]he plot is strong, moving if not surprising, and eloquent in itself about choice and chance."



Booklist, May 1, 1998, Vanessa Bush, review of The Job, p. 1478.

Books, summer, 1998, review of The Big Picture, p. 24; autumn, 1998, review of The Job, p. 24.

Bulletin with Newsweek, September 29, 1998, Tom Gilling, review of The Job, p. 74.

Chicago Tribune, April 20, 1997.

Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 1998, Phelippe Salazar, review of The Job, p. B7.

Economist, July 4, 1992, p. 80.

Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1998, review of The Big Picture, p. 66; July 31, 1998, review of The Job, p. 69.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1998, review of The Job, p. 679.

Library Journal, April 15, 1998, Mark Pumphrey, review of The Big Picture, p. 133; June 1, 1998, Elsa Pendleton, review of The Job, p. 152.

Listener, November 2, 1989, pp. 30-31.

London Review of Books, June 14, 1990, pp. 24-25.

New Law Journal, December 18, 1998, review of The Job, p. 1891.

New Statesman and Society, August 7, 1992, p. 41.

New York Times, March 27, 1997, p. B8; July 9, 1998, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, p. E9.

Observer, February 19, 1995, p. 21.

People Weekly, July 20, 1998, review of The Job, p. 42.

Publishers Weekly, December 30, 1996, p. 53; April 20, 1998, review of The Job, p. 42.

Spectator, March 17, 2001, Kate Grimond, review of The Pursuit of Happiness, p. 41.

Times Educational Supplement, February 2, 1990.

Times Literary Supplement, August 5-11, 1988, p. 869; July 31, 1992, p. 12; April 20, 2001, Benjamin Markovits, review of The Pursuit of Happiness, p. 31.


Richmond Review, (August 3, 2005), Simon Peters, review of In God's Country: Travels in the Bible Belt, USA.

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Kennedy, Douglas 1955–

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