An earlier work by Booker-winning Unsworth (Savage Hunger, 1992; Morality Play, 1995, etc.), now making its first appearance in the US: a brooding, quietly savage little tale of eccentricity, manipulation, and malevolence on an English country estate. Simon lives with his sister Audrey and her ward/maid Marion in a rambling house surrounded by unkempt grounds, all gone to seed since Audrey's husband's death. It suits antisocial Simon perfectly, since he can use the tangled overgrowth to mask his secret passions: spying on a well-endowed neighbor when she unwittingly exposes herself, and building tunnels complete with secret chambers where he can retire for moments of delicious privacy. His bliss is disrupted, however, when Audrey hires a young gardener, Josh, to tidy up. Josh has his own story to tell: Formerly a stall attendant at a local amusement park, his simple, trusting manner has brought him under the influence of a sharp- tongued malcontent, Mortimer, with whom he shares news of his new employers. Marion and Audrey are both giddy in Josh's virile presence, Audrey thinking herself his patron when she finds that he has a real talent for woodcarving. But Josh has eyes only for teenager Marion. Their mutual attraction results in clutches and fumblings about the grounds, and Audrey is devastated, but a sharper blow comes to her when the drama society, of which she is an ardent member and primary supporter, dumps her. Meanwhile, Simon has witnessed all from his various ``hides'' among the bushes, using his gathered information to further his own ends. But when Josh allows Mortimer and another man to ``share'' Marion, against her will, even the voracious voyeur has had his fill. Ranging from scenes of farce to scenes of chilling cruelty, what emerges is a superbly nuanced view of human frailty beset by evil and adversity—a strong addition to the Unsworth oeuvre already available here.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-393-03955-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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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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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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