Female adolescence as imagined by one of the 20th century’s best—and most peculiar—writers.

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BILGEWATER

A quirky coming-of-age story, published in 1976 and newly back in print, from a two-time winner of the Whitbread Award.

Her mother gave her the name Marigold Daisy Green. Then her mother died, and now everyone calls her Bilgewater—a pun on “Bill’s daughter” crafted by her father's students at a boys' school in the remote north of England. Bilgie knows that her dead mother and her glorious name make her seem like a creature from a fairy tale, just as she knows that, with her thick body and thicker specs, she’s no one’s idea of a princess. This doesn’t stop her from daydreaming about the magnificent Jack Rose. Nor does her awareness of her own inadequacies make her in any way jealous of the shockingly resplendent Grace Gathering, a childhood friend who returns—after being kicked out of two posh schools—to the home of her father, who's the school's headmaster. Bilgewater’s adolescence is filled with clichés both ancient and modern. Grace, for example, serves as Bilgie's ideal of the Lady of Shalott: uncommonly beautiful but maybe best dead and safely out of the running. In one weird weekend, Bilgewater will endure a gin-soaked party with Jack Rose’s parents and almost lose her virginity in a garret. But anyone familiar with Gardam’s work will trust the author to know what she’s doing with well-worn tropes. Gardam (God on the Rocks, 2010, etc.) clearly recognizes that motifs persist for a reason: because they conform to fundamental human experiences, because they fulfill basic narrative needs. And she also understands the role that stories might play in the life of a girl being raised by an abstracted, academic father. That said, Bilgewater emerges entirely as herself, a singular first-person narrator in control of her own story.

Female adolescence as imagined by one of the 20th century’s best—and most peculiar—writers.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60945-331-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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