Uneven work from this always provocative writer.

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LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING

“The continuous narrative of existence is a lie . . . there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark.” Winterson’s latest is all about light and dark, love and its absence.

The British author gives us two lives from two centuries. A 19th-century man travels from light into darkness; a 20th-century girl travels, stumblingly, from darkness into light. Silver, the girl, lives with her mother in Salts, on Scotland’s northwestern coast, sailor father long gone. When Silver is ten, in 1969, a mighty wind blows her mother into oblivion, and Silver is taken in by Pew, the lighthouse keeper, as his apprentice. Pew is blind but has a good heart, and his storytelling saves Silver from despair. The tale concerns the lighthouse, its founder, wealthy Bristol merchant Josiah Dark, and his son, Babel, who in 1848 seemed set to marry his pretty girlfriend Molly. That story comes to us in fragments, interleaved with Silver’s. Babel’s dark is of his own making when, suspecting, wrongly, that Molly has another lover, he punishes her with blows, then enters the clergy and a loveless marriage in far distant Silts. The moral is simple: “Never doubt the one you love.” There will be flashes of light in Babel’s later life before the dark closes in for good. Meanwhile, poor Silver’s life plunges into dark again; Pew’s love had sustained her, but now the lighthouse is automated and he vanishes. Silver goes south, begins to steal, has a breakdown. Much later, on a Greek island, she finds true love (her lover is a woman, but that’s secondary). The novel, gloriously edgy at the start (there’s a schoolteacher guaranteed to freeze your blood), now settles into the groove of a generic pastoral idyll, and the writing suffers. Please notice, though, that Silver’s lover has Pew’s long fingers: all the lives here are connected, and the nameless joins the circle that binds Babel and Pew and Silver.

Uneven work from this always provocative writer.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-15-101117-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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