A superb debut: demanding but still eminently accessible.

READ REVIEW

OBSERVATORY MANSIONS

A macabre, colorful, morally complex first novel by a young British playwright.

Flirting with allegory, Carey sets his story in a big, decrepit house. Once a country manor called Tearsham Park, now a block of flats called Observatory Mansions, it sits on a traffic island surrounded by a noisy, rundown city. Lonely, grotesque characters inhabit the building; foremost is Francis Orme, the swollen-lipped, permanently white-gloved narrator who is secretly amassing a collection of other people’s beloved objects. When not playing with his collection in the basement, Francis earns his living by “practicing the art of stillness”: that is, he goes to a public square and for tips stands on a plinth, pretending to be a statue. Added to the stew are Francis’s father, who hasn’t spoken or risen from his armchair in years, and his mother, who won’t get out of bed. If all this doesn’t already sound sufficiently Beckett-like, there are also Peter Bugg, an ex-teacher obsessed with his lost discipline-doling ruler, lovingly named “Chiron” (Francis has purloined it, of course, for his collection); Claire Higg, an old spinster who watches TV and pines for the past; and a treacherous, backstabbing Porter. But all is changed by the arrival of Anna Tap, a new, kindhearted tenant with rapidly deteriorating eyeballs. Tom Wolvians be warned: this is not social realism—but it is a challenging, relevant piece of absurdism. Carey pushes situations to the verge of outrageousness but keeps them just plausible enough to seem familiar and eerie. Essentially, the story is about objects and the people who love them; it turns out, not surprisingly, that if they had loved other people, instead of objects, everything would have turned out a lot better. But Carey’s debut is full of small surprises, and in its high moments it is genuinely affecting.

A superb debut: demanding but still eminently accessible.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60680-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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