An intriguing concept poorly executed.

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THE LANGUAGE OF THE SEA

A marine scientist quits a rocky marriage to hang out with seals in this faltering debut from a British author. 

They married young, in Scotland, a striking couple. Leo Kemp, an Australian, was making his mark at the university with his research on sea mammals; the Scottish Margot was a beautiful schoolteacher. Now, in 2008, 16 years later, Leo’s career has prospered but their marriage has frayed. They’ve been living for several years on Cape Cod, where Leo lectures at a prestigious institute. Margot has never forgiven her husband for taking their son Julian on a seal-watching trip which resulted in his accidental death. All that keeps them together is their teenage daughter Sam. On a field trip with his postgraduate students to record underwater conversations among seals, Leo is swept overboard by a freak wave. A strong swimmer, he makes it to a sandbank, but realizes he does not want to be rescued. For what? The institute has just dismissed him over an outspoken interview in a local paper (he was never a team player). Margot and Sam no longer have meaning for him; he would rather swim with seals by day, sleep in the dunes by night. MacManus is not writing a survivalist story, for Leo manages quite well on a diet of mussels, crabs and seaweed, drinking from freshwater ponds. Is this, then, more an existential drama, investigating misanthropy? No again. When Leo asks himself what he’s doing with the seals, he has no answer. What is plain is that the author is more comfortable writing about seals than humans. About seals, he is clear and authoritative; he holds our interest. His humans, though, are shopworn, talking in clichés. Margot, pleased to be rid of her mate, prepares to return to Scotland, then has an unconvincing change of heart. Leo will eventually be found, but his extraordinary time out will remain unilluminated. 

An intriguing concept poorly executed.

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-64847-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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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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