This author’s own madness lies in tedium.

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MELANCHOLY

Art-school angst in the 1850s inspires modern writer.

Lars Hertervig, a young Quaker from a small Norwegian island, has been sent by a patron to study landscape painting in Düsseldorf. Lars lies on his bed in a rented room, on the day his prominent teacher, Hans Gude, plans to critique his work. Lars avoids the studio, fearing that Gude will tell him he can’t paint and must return home. Mentally, Lars relives the time his landlady’s 15-year-old daughter, Helene, let her hair down for him. He fancies they’re in love. But Helene has just told him her uncle wants to evict him. Helene seems indifferent and Lars alternately berates her and tries to get her to run away with him. In an artist’s tavern, Malkasten, Lars accuses a classmate, Alfred, one of many colleagues who in Lars’s opinion can’t paint, of stealing his pipe. He’s menaced by delusions of black and white clothes that surround him and almost smother him. By now, the reader wishes they would. Wandering the streets with his suitcases, Lars encounters Gude, who compliments his talent. But Lars’s paranoia admits no praise. Alfred lures Lars back to Malkasten, claiming Helene is awaiting him there. He’s greeted instead by a jeering section of bad painters. The next segment details a day at Gaustad asylum, where Lars has been forbidden to paint. In his doctor’s view, art, masturbation and maligning the virtue of the world’s women are the three pillars of Lars’s insanity. Lars contemplates escape. He’s no more popular in the madhouse than in art school, and we last see him being pelted with snowballs by fellow inmates as he skulks off. The third section concerns a reclusive writer, Vidme, who in 1991 is inspired to write a novel about Hertervig. Or maybe not. The stream-of-consciousness narration, a minute-by-minute reportage of obsessive, repetitive thoughts, is a numbing rendition of the banality of anxiety.

This author’s own madness lies in tedium.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2006

ISBN: 1-56478-451-7

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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