Much less accessible than Jelinek’s best-known work, The Piano Teacher (1983), this is an unrewarding trek across a...

READ REVIEW

GREED

The male drive for property acquisition and sexual conquest is the theme of this murky postmodernist novel from the Austrian writer, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Though narrative and character are secondary here, it does have a storyline of sorts, plus a protagonist: Kurt Janisch, a rogue cop in the Alpine foothills of southern Austria. The ladies swoon over Kurt, a youthful-looking grandfather. He has a wife, a son who’s a telephone repairman, a devoutly religious daughter-in-law and a grandson. The opening suggests we will get to know this family, but they soon disappear from view, along with the anti-clerical gibes. We’re left with Kurt and his customary targets: single women or widows who own houses. “Property is the only thing that counts . . . a house keeps its value. A body decays.” Yet ironically, Kurt is up to his ears in debt, unable to get the houses he craves. Perhaps he is stymied by his “persistent angry darkness.” Not surprisingly, he likes rough sex, which leads him to strangle Gabi, who’s not quite 16, and dump her body in the lake. The storyline, which comes and goes, shows the discovery of the body and the subsequent fruitless investigation (20 detectives, 2,000 people questioned, bureaucracy at work); there will be no resolution, no dénouement, just a suicide by another of Kurt’s targets. Nor will Kurt’s darkness be examined; he is little more than an erect penis seeking a true climax. (Like Jelinek’s 1989 novel Lust, this associates sexual hunger with capitalistic greed.) What’s left is an authorial voice that manages to be both whimsical and labored; this weakens the satirical barbs against societal forces that have made nature itself suspect, whether the man-made lake or the mountain hollowed out by a mine.

Much less accessible than Jelinek’s best-known work, The Piano Teacher (1983), this is an unrewarding trek across a depressing landscape.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-58322-757-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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