Favorably, rightly compared with Isak Dinesen’s classic “gothic tales,” and a great critical success in Europe: a rich,...

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TALES OF PROTECTION

Whether similar occurrences are linked or are instead “apparently meaningful coalescences that have no causal connection” is the question at the heart of this lavishly imagined, unfailingly seductive second novel from the virtuoso Norwegian author (Psalm at Journey’s End, 1996).

The figure that threads through the four component stories here—as their presiding, inquiring spirit—is that of Wilhelm Bolt, a wealthy Norwegian scientist and engineer first encountered as he lies in his coffin awaiting burial, and reflecting on his long, eventful—and, as we’ll eventually learn, frustrated and compensatory—life. This magical-realist touch is echoed repeatedly, as Hansen creates a fascinating structure in which brief disclosures about his characters’ interrelationships and histories are amplified by later extended flashbacks. Thus, the first “tale” reveals the reclusive Bolt’s initially reluctant mentoring of his runaway grandniece Lea, the scientific (primarily botanical) researches that occupy and energize him, and the theory of “serialization” (i.e., of the un-connectedness of what seems connected) he draws from his experiences and readings. Of the succeeding tales, which mirror and elucidate Bolt’s own questing nature and his symbiotic relationship with his deferential manservant Andersen, one “travels” to an island off the Swedish coast, in 1898, and the tense intimacy between a lighthouse keeper’s family and a “half-mute” assistant once possessed of an angelic singing voice. Another (the longest, and best) is set in Renaissance Italy and concerns an aristocratic art patron stricken with a disfiguring disease and his faithful servant, a painting of a Madonna credited with miraculous healing powers, and conflicting artistic theories of how reality may be captured—and honored. A final tale solves the remaining mysteries surrounding Wilhelm Bolt, and returns the story to its beginnings, at the old man’s funeral.

Favorably, rightly compared with Isak Dinesen’s classic “gothic tales,” and a great critical success in Europe: a rich, replete demonstration of the art of storytelling and the universality of human loving and striving.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-27240-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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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

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