Like a long Monty Python sketch.



And now for something completely different: a broad farce from a British novelist renowned for his literary subtlety and command of tone.

Having finished his five-volume series of autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels (At Last, 2012, etc.), which have been hailed as one of the foremost achievements of modern literature, what could St. Aubyn do for an encore? Though a lethal sense of humor has been crucial to his skewering of the British upper classes, here he exchanges the darkness of hell and redemption among the coldhearted aristocracy for a laugh-out-loud sendup of literary prizes. Instead of the Man Booker, Britain’s most prestigious award is the Elysian Prize for Literature, determined by one well-meaning academic and a motley assortment of philistines, sponsored by a “highly innovative but controversial agricultural company” whose chief critics are environmentalists “claiming that [its products] caused cancer, disrupted the food chain, destroyed bee populations, or turned cattle into cannibals.” The judges for the prize generally have hidden (or not so hidden) agendas that don’t require them to actually read the books, and one doesn’t even bother to attend their deliberative sessions (he’s an actor on tour with “a hip-hop adaptation of Waiting for Godot”). The plot pivots around the promiscuity of a nubile novelist who has “averaged twenty lovers a year since she was sixteen” and who is in the process of juggling three or more through most of the narrative. Both the author and the reader have great fun with this, as the virtuosic novelist provides excerpts from nominated works, including a historical novel about William Shakespeare, a pulp page-turner and a scabrous (and hilarious) spew that the highest-minded judge dismisses as “sub-Irvine Welsh.” Through preposterous plot machinations, a cookbook of traditional Indian recipes is mistakenly submitted as fiction and becomes an unlikely contender, “operating as the boldest metafictional performance of our time.” The madcap climax involves an assassination plot and a stuck elevator at the awards banquet before surprisingly resolving itself with a (tentative) happy ending.

Like a long Monty Python sketch.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-28029-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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