Complex, funny, prescient, difficult: Kavenna's novel tackles nothing less than everything as it blurs the lines between...

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ZED

Kavenna returns to the existential debate explored in her last novel (Come to the Edge, 2013, etc.) in order to further probe the question of free will in the age of deep data-mining.

In an alarmingly plausible near future, tech giant Beetle has risen to global prominence in the fields of transportation, communication, health, security, media, and everything else. The society it has engineered is safer, more efficient, and totally devoid of surprise until the insidious presence of Zed begins to derange the algorithm. In London, upper level Beetle Douglas Varley is awakened by his digital Very Intelligent Personal Assistant, or “Veep,” Scrace Dickens, to the news that something has gone terribly wrong. Without any prior warning from any of Beetle’s predicative programs, perfectly ordinary citizen George Mann has returned home from a night of anomalous hard drinking to murder his wife and two sons. In the hours that follow, the supposedly infallible Anti-Terror Droid, or ANT, sent to apprehend Mann makes a miscalculation and executes Lionel Bigman, an innocent bus driver and British Army veteran. A massive damage control effort follows in which the timorous Varley; Beetle’s narcissistic, youth-obsessed CEO, Guy Matthias; and the hacker-turned–Beetle IT guru Francesca Amerensekera attempt to tighten the already iron grip Beetle holds over the totally voluntary participants in its benign social revolution (which—as Beetle controls all currency and thus all means of social mobility—is everyone) while scrambling to stem the spreading chaos created by Zed, “the category term for instability.” Meanwhile, Eloise Jayne, a hard-nosed investigator for the Beetle backed National Anti-Terrorism and Security Office, and David Strachey, editor-in-chief of the Beetle-owned Times, Daily Star, Sun, and the Daily Record, seek the truth of Zed and its implications for a society used to the placidity of a near-total parent state. In the hands of a lesser writer, the novel’s convoluted plot, burgeoning cast of characters, and barbed use of Beetle brand tech-speak would leave the reader hopelessly tangled in the what of the novel before they ever got to the philosophical why. Kavenna, however, is a diligent scholar of her form, melding a massively complex plot à la Thomas Pynchon and the wicked social satire of Evelyn Waugh with a healthy dose of Gogol’s absurdist dysphoria thrown in for good measure.

Complex, funny, prescient, difficult: Kavenna's novel tackles nothing less than everything as it blurs the lines between real and virtual.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54548-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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