MONSIEUR DE BRILLANCOURT

In her American debut, British writer Harkness offers an uneven fairy tale of unrequited love. Once upon a time, in a remote section of southeastern France, lived an elderly Prince Charming in an ugly old chÉteau. Alone except for his maid and cook, Virgil de Brillancourt is actually quite happy. He has his exceptional library, his collections of insects and magnifying glasses, his beautiful garden, and the occasional companionship of numerous amiable relatives. Although he is a handsome man and a very fine dancer, M. de Brillancourt has never married; at 69 his romantic memories center on the fairy lights from summer balls given for his sisters. The only thing he pines for is children: He misses the ``patter of tiny feet''; he longs to tell eager little ones about the ongoing battle between the wasps and stag beetles that live in the trees around his home. In order to acquire some children, M. de Brillancourt builds a swimming pool and rents out part of his chÉteau to a young Englishwoman and her family. One day, after seeing his tenant in only the bottom half of her bikini, M. de Brillancourt falls in love. Radiant with happiness, he celebrates his belatedly awakened passion by buying a red Lamborghini. He becomes gregarious and, at the first party he has ever given, he waltzes with his true love. But it's his only fling. When she returns to London, he goes mad. A comic subplot in which M. de Brillancourt's relatives try to protect him from suspected alcoholism and cross-dressing seems contrived to flesh a short story into a novella, and his fatal depression seems too fast a wrap-up for this lovely man. At its best, a charming sketch of a shy eccentric with mouthwatering vistas of the Ardäche. But in the end, the plot and charm seem force-fed.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-312-11854-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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