When you’re dealing with an author whose track record spans a half-century and paradigm-altering works like The Golden...

READ REVIEW

THE GRANDMOTHERS

Four novellas demonstrating that 84-year-old author (The Sweetest Dream, 2002, etc.) still boasts a range and power few writers half her age can muster.

Lessing opens with “The Grandmothers,” a portrait of taboo-defying sex and a friendship beyond ordinary bounds. Roz and Lil form in girlhood a bond so close that it eventually drives away Roz’s husband. The women’s two young boys are best friends too, but after Lil’s spouse dies in a car crash, her sensitive, “nervy” son Ian seems to pine—until, at age 17, he climbs into Roz’s bed. Her son Tom spends the very next night with Lil, and for more than a decade the foursome maintain a secret idyll, its meaning and consequences addressed with penetrating psychological complexity. In “Victoria and the Staveneys,” a short masterpiece of sharp social realism, a young black girl’s chance connection in London with a family of wealthy white liberals changes her life. Victoria’s personal struggles (poignant, but never sentimentalized) stingingly contrast with the Staveneys’ comfortable journey through two decades in late-20th-century Britain. “The Reason for It,” an allegory of civilization’s decline in the mode of Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series, will not appeal to everyone, but it’s meticulously crafted with her customary serious intelligence. “A Love Child” practically flaunts the author’s ability to vividly enter into and convey almost any experience: an English soldier’s nightmarish ocean journey on a WWII troop ship, a Cape Town wife’s vague feelings of privileged discontent, their almost hallucinatory four-day romance, and the soldier’s subsequent, desperately dull administrative service in India, which leaves plenty of time for his obsessive memories of the affair that will shape his postwar life as well. Class distinctions, political unrest, emotional torment: Lessing nails them all in blunt prose that disdains elegance for the sterner pleasures of truthful observation.

When you’re dealing with an author whose track record spans a half-century and paradigm-altering works like The Golden Notebook, it’s too easy to simply praise another excellent effort. Where is this woman’s Nobel Prize?

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-053010-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more