Osborne, Lawrence 1958–
Osborne, Lawrence 1958–
PERSONAL: Born 1958, in England.
Ania Malina (novel), Scribner's (New York, NY), 1987.
Paris Dreambook: An Unconventional Guide to the Splendor and Squalor of the City (nonfiction), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1990.
The Poisoned Embrace: A Brief History of Sexual Pessimism (literary criticism), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1993.
American Normal: The Hidden World of Asperger Syndrome, Copernicus (New York, NY), 2002.
The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey through the Wine World, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times Magazine, Lingua Franca, the New Republic, and Talk.
SIDELIGHTS: Lawrence Osborne's first book was the novel Ania Malina, which was described by Allen Josephs in the New York Times Book Review as "a strikingly mature … and self-contained metaphor for modern alienation." A story about an obsession sprung from love and loneliness, the novel captured the modest but complimentary approval of a variety of literary critics. Although occasionally criticized for being overwritten in its approach, it has been praised as the first work of a talented British author.
Among Osborne's other early works are the nonfiction volumes Paris Dreambook: An Unconventional Guide to the Splendor and Squalor of the City and The Poisoned Embrace: A Brief History of Sexual Pessimism. The latter has gained some recognition as a well-argued exploration of "sexual pessimism," which Osborne defines as the "equation of sexual love outside the prerequisites of reproduction with death," which is perhaps "Catholicism's most eccentric trait." The book received accolades from one Publishers Weekly writer, who described Osborne's argument as "thoughtful" and "sometimes elegant" in its approach to the topic. However, it is Ania Malina that has earned Osborne his place in contemporary literature.
Ania Malina is set in Europe during and after World War II. It tells the story of Jamie Lovecraft, an Englishman who is introduced to the object of his affections, sixteen-year-old Ania Malina, in a hospital in Leon, France. Osborne's narrative is divided into four parts. The first section is titled "Unsent Letters," which is a compilation of letters written to Lovecraft's sister and describing his introduction to and subsequent impressions of Ania's doctor, Kessler, as well as his growing fondness and eventual love for the girl herself. The second section is called "L'Hotel du Bresil" in which the narrative voice switches to straight first person and Lovecraft elaborates on his reconnection with Ania in Paris after the war. The narrator lures her back into his arms, offering to care for her in an attempt to satisfy his own self-serving desires. Section three, "The Eye of the Sea," takes place in a sanatorium in Poland, where Ania is staying in an attempt to recover from her illness. The final section, "Part Two: Ania Malina," is Osborne's offering up of Ania to the reader.
Up until this point, Ania has been understood by the reader only insofar as Lovecraft understands and observes her, which led Merle Rubin to note in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that many readers may "find the standard 'male' practice of writing about women as objects—not just sex objects, but objects of knowledge, to be investigated, explored, and understood." This section is provided in the form of diary entries, which describe the abuse she endured as a patient of Dr. Kessler, her lonely days with Lovecraft in Paris, and the sufferings of her cousin Piotr during World War II.
Osborne's novel touches upon themes oftentimes associated with Vladimir Nabokov; it is obvious that Love-craft has found his own Lolita in the form of Ania. However, the interesting aspect of the novel is the distinction the author makes by presenting the voice of Ania and demystifying her. In the final pages of the book, the reader is finally faced with Ania not as Love-craft has created her in his image, but as she truly is, in all of her confusion, pain, and rebellion. Ultimately, Osborne's first work is an ambitious piece, which is described by Shelley Cox in Library Journal this way: "Though flawed by overwriting and too-precious imagery, the work shows a promising subtlety and talent."
In 2002 Osborne released American Normal: The Hidden World of Asperger Syndrome, which deals with a range of ideas and issues pertaining to Asperger Syndrome (AS). First identified by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger in 1944, this syndrome is similar to autism. Whereas most autistic people have difficulty blending into society, though, people with AS are able to function normally. Many are simply considered eccentric despite their often obsessive habits and sometimes astounding abilities in math and memory. Osborne dissects this psychiatric puzzle in American Normal through interviews with people with AS and insights into historical figures, from Thomas Jefferson to Temple Grandin, who might have been diagnosed with the syndrome if they were alive today. Writing for the Library Journal, Corey Seeman felt that the book "falters on many counts," but has an "admirable goal" in trying to understand AS.
Osborne's next nonfiction offering, The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey through the Wine World, looks at the little-known aspects of the business of wine-making. He tours Europe and California, documenting his meetings with winemakers both large and small and giving readers insights into how wine is made and marketed. Mark Knoblauch, writing in Booklist, remarked that Osborne's text is "lighthearted yet deeply informed" and the personalities Osborne captures are "more indelible than zinfandel spilled on white damask." Osborne has continued his explorations of the modern world with his 2006 release, The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Yearbook 1987, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Osborne, Lawrence, The Poisoned Embrace: A Brief History of Sexual Pessimism, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1993.
Booklist, February 15, 2004, Mark Knoblauch, review of The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey through the Wine World, p. 1013.
Library Journal, June 15, 1987, Shelley Cox, review of Ania Malina, p. 86; October 15, 2002, Corey Seeman, review of American Normal: The Hidden World of Asperger Syndrome, p. 88.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 20, 1987, Merle Rubin, review of Ania Malina, p. 8.
Nation, June 14, 2004, Matthew DeBord, review of The Accidental Connoisseur, p. 57.
New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1987, Allen Josephs, review of Ania Malina, p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, May 15, 1987, review of Ania Malina, p. 267; August 30, 1993, review of The Poisoned Embrace: A Brief History of Sexual Pessimism, p. 85; January 26, 2004, review of The Accidental Connoisseur, p. 241.
Science News, November 23, 2002, review of American Normal, p. 335.
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, http://www.fsgbooks.com/ (February 8, 2006), "Lawrence Osborne."