A short story’s worth of incident floated on a prickly cushion of aphorism.

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THE PORTRAIT

A Scottish painter meets his English mentor and former friend after many years, in this poisoned miniature from the author of the behemoth An Instance of the Fingerpost (1998) and The Dream of Scipio (2002).

In the waning years of the 19th century, William Nasmyth encouraged Henry MacAlpine to paint, shared his knowledge of the European masters with the younger man, included his work in exhibitions he was organizing, and subtly managed at the same time to inhibit and discredit him. Now that the insurgent Impressionists and Post-Impressionists William championed have become establishment artists, Henry, long retired from public life to the tiny Breton island of Houat, has enticed William to the island to sit for his portrait. As William poses in what he takes to be the foreground, silent as a Strindberg foil, Henry reflects on the very different roads that have brought the two of them to this spot at the end of the world. His monologue ranges over the moment when he first knew himself to be an artist, the shameful way he got money for his first trip to Paris, the still undetected fraud he perpetrated on William years ago, and his relations with the painter Evelyn, the prostitute/model Jacky, and the prophetic patron Mrs. Algernon Roberts. Until the very end, narrative elements are resolutely subordinated to an essayistic ramble on the themes of the artist’s vocation (the painter is “someone who prays with his brush”), the symbiotic relationship between artists and the critics they hate, and the artist as creator and killer. Though Pears’s epigrams are not in the same league with Oscar Wilde’s, his grasp of melodrama, honed on his seven mysteries starring Rome’s art-theft squad (The Immaculate Deception, 2000, etc.), is sharp as ever, as he finally indicates in disclosing Henry’s motive and master plan.

A short story’s worth of incident floated on a prickly cushion of aphorism.

Pub Date: April 21, 2005

ISBN: 1-57322-298-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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