Part realistic novel, part high-class soap opera, and absorbingly readable from first page to last.



The story of a French Everyman is told in this appealing 2004 novel, the first in English translation from a veteran journalist and fiction writer.

It traces 40-plus years in the life of its narrator-protagonist Paul Blick, whose experiences are paralleled with events in the world outside him and particularly the body politic, as Dubois sets them in the contexts of presidential administrations, beginning with Charles de Gaulle and concluding with Jacques Chirac. The source of Paul’s emotional coolness is convincingly located in such early traumas as the death of his older brother from peritonitis and the callous condescension of his wealthy paternal grandmother toward his mother’s humbler family. Thus are rebellious “leftist” impulses implanted in him, and we observe their reappearances throughout his youth at the time of the late-1960s student riots, rapidly truncated military service and (frequently hilarious) couplings with women who undertake to educate him sexually. After breaking up with “perfect” girlfriend Marie and while drifting through a time of “profound upheaval in the relationship between men and women”—the Sexual Revolution, n’est-ce pas?—Paul settles on rich, beautiful Anna Villandreux, herself a successful businesswoman. “Capitulating” to the bourgeois convention of marriage when she becomes pregnant, Paul weds this formidable Aphrodite, fathers two children and passively tolerates Anna’s “independence.” Reluctant to resume an abandoned teaching career, he works as a reporter for the magazine Sports Illustrés, owned by Anna’s father, before discovering the passion for photography that makes him rich when, now a “cine-ethnographer” who produces a lavishly beautiful volume, Trees of France, he seems at last a success. But adultery, midlife crisis, parents’ deaths and his daughter’s plunge into irreversible depression exact their toll—and Paul, indeed a microcosm of the world around him, retreats to become another Candide, patiently, stoically, tending his garden.

Part realistic novel, part high-class soap opera, and absorbingly readable from first page to last.

Pub Date: July 5, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-307-26287-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2007

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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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