A charming account of achieving happiness against the odds.

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HUNTING AND GATHERING

Three oddballs form an alternative family in Paris; its warm heart and youthful vibe have made Gavalda’s novel, originally published in France in 2004, a bestseller in that country and elsewhere.

Camille Fauque has hit rock-bottom, living on the streets, when a friend finds her shelter: a tiny maid’s room in a grand old building in a ritzy Paris neighborhood. The skeletal 26-year-old is weighed down by life’s miseries; once a talented artist, she now cleans offices after hours. Her salvation is a neighbor. The timid, gangly, stammering Philibert is no better at coping with life than Camille (he sells postcards), but the kind-hearted aristocrat recognizes a damsel in distress and installs her in his magnificent apartment, which he’s guarding until an inheritance battle is resolved. Philibert already has one roommate, who uses the place just to bed his many girlfriends. Franck Lestafier is a talented if inarticulate saucier at a top-of-the-line restaurant; he cares only for his motorbike and his grandmother Paulette, who raised him. The frail old lady has just been moved into a retirement home, which she hates, and Franck finds his weekly visits there torture. Nor is he happy about the arrival of Camille: “She’s skinny, stupid, pretentious, and as weird as my roommate.” The thaw begins with their shared enjoyment of a Marvin Gaye album. Then Franck has her help out at the restaurant on New Year’s Eve: She’s a sensation. Only much later, in long monologues, will Franck and Camille reveal their troubled pasts. The “family” becomes complete when Camille moves sweet-natured Paulette in with them; she has quit her job to be a caregiver (she’s also started drawing again). Will Franck and Camille become lovers? Of course, but Gavalda (Someone I Loved, 2005, etc.) rings changes on this predictable outcome, and sentimentality is held in check by Franck’s habitual gruff profanity.

A charming account of achieving happiness against the odds.

Pub Date: April 3, 2007

ISBN: 1-59448-144-X

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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