One of the finest achievements of this greatly talented British author.

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OLD FILTH

The marvelously versatile Gardam (Faith Fox, 2003, etc.) dips into British imperial history for her extraordinary portrait of a Raj orphan.

Filth is an acronym (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) and the affectionate nickname for Sir Edward Feathers, whose distinguished career, as an advocate and judge, began in Hong Kong in 1947. His colleagues saw an “untroubled and uneventful life.” Boy, were they wrong. For Eddie, son of a servant of Empire, was a Raj orphan whose common lot was to be shipped off to British foster families. Eddie’s case was extreme. His mother died after giving birth in Malaya; his whisky-fueled father rejected him; he was housed with a native girl, Ada, who adored him. Eddie’s first trauma will be his removal from Ada; the four-year-old is dispatched (in steerage) to a child-hating, sadistic foster mother in Wales, Ma Didds. His time with her will be his second great trauma. The story begins when Filth is an old man, living alone in the English countryside, his beloved wife Betty recently dead, then alternates fluidly between old age and childhood and youth, which had its bright spots. Filth has repressed memories of Ma Didds’s regime, which he ended dramatically with the help of her other charges, his cousins Babs and Claire. Yet the horrifying memory tolls like a distant bell, and the climax comes when Filth and Babs relive it, in the presence of a priest. The wheel has come full circle; the old man is as vulnerable as a child; his spiritual journey is complete. Gardam’s richly textured novel is packed with memorable sequences: Eddie traveling to Singapore, an evacuee from WW2 Britain, sharing a cabin with a half-Chinese cardsharp; back in Britain, guarding Queen Mary from the Germans; much later, in shock after Betty’s death, driving wildly across England to visit ancient, half-mad cousin Babs, who has just proposed to a schoolboy.

One of the finest achievements of this greatly talented British author.

Pub Date: June 15, 2006

ISBN: 1-933372-13-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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