Unproductive navel-gazing.



Jacobson’s turgid eighth outing tells you more than you ever wanted to know about the life of a retired university lecturer.

Henry Nagel, pushing 60, has recently moved to a posh London neighborhood after a lifetime in the North of England. He has come into possession of a fancy apartment, which, he speculates, belonged to his father’s mistress, both now deceased. A timid soul, Henry is preparing for death without having lived a life, and Jacobson walks us through some big moments in Henry’s story, starting with his birth on Christmas Day in a Manchester nursing-home. We squirm with Henry as he gets into trouble for not bringing home the change from the grocery store and wince with Henry as a schoolboy when someone calls him a girl (oh, Jacobson loves the name “Henry” to death). Not that Henry had a hard childhood: He was cosseted by his doting Jewish parents. If Henry grew up afraid of his own shadow, it wasn’t the fault of his father, Izzi, a magician and fire-eater who believed in fun times. And his great-aunt Marghanita embodied “the unutterable voluptuousness of family.” Though Henry loved having women in his life, he couldn’t handle the responsibility of a relationship, so he “borrowed” the wives of colleagues at his obscure university, where his career never took off (we get some feeble satirical swipes at “radical feminists”). Finally, in London, he meets Moira, the lively owner of a local patisserie, who gets Henry to lighten up. Might he be ready for the first-ever mature relationship? Can life begin at 60? Will Jacobson (The Very Model of a Man, 1994, etc.) deliver the goods? Well, no, he’ll leave us hanging. Answers are delayed as Henry discovers it was his mother, not his father, who had the secret life, plunging him into another round of speculation about the past. All this, and walking the neighbor’s dog (a major production), elbows out his romance with Moira.

Unproductive navel-gazing.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-7861-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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