FLAUBERT'S PARROT

Sly, quite witty, and very smart: an elegant meditation on the precincts of Art and Life, embodied in that great polar-bear of these two antipodes—Flaubert. English critic and novelist Barnes (Metroland) gives over the narration of this playful but quite serious literary investigation to a fictional retired doctor, Geoffrey Braithwait, an amateur Flaubert scholar whose wife (sporadically unfaithful to him in the past) has recently committed suicide. (This murmurous subtext flickers like a compass point beneath all the discussion of Flaubert's bachelorhood and misanthropy.) Braithwait is a dazzling, easy-going, discriminating guide—whether tracking down the stuffed parrot Flaubert kept on his desk or giving poor maligned Louise Colet (F.'s mistress) a rebuttal opportunity, whether discussing friends. . . or the place of trains in Flaubert's life. As criticism of criticism, too, the novel is deliciously sane and supple, especially when skewering critics from Sartre to Enid Starkie—who complained that the color of Emma Bovary's eyes changes on different pages of the novel. ("Eyes of brown, eyes of blue. Does it matter? Not, does it matter if the writer contradicts himself; but does it matter what colour they are anyway? I feel sorry for novelists when they have to mention women's eyes: there's so little choice, and whatever colouring is decided on inevitably carries banal implications. Her eyes are blue: innocence and honesty. Her eyes are black: passion and depth. Her eyes are green: wildness and jealousy. Her eyes are brown: reliability and common sense. Her eyes are violet: the novel is by Raymond Chandler.") And Braithwait's tangential dictates against fashion in fiction will delight anyone who knows the territory: "A quota system is to be introduced on fiction set in South America. The intention is to curb the spread of package-tour baroque and heavy irony. Ah, the propinquity of cheap life and expensive principles, of religion and banditry, of surprising honor and random cruelty." Indeed, Braithwait/Barnes is continuously entertaining and telling—as he acidly dismisses some of the many stupid "accepted ideas" about Flaubert, as he drily satirizes literary obtuseness in its assorted flavors. So—for connoisseurs of Flaubert or of fiction generally: an economical, balanced, gliding defense of the artist and his art—cast in an oddly undefinable form that's very special but never precious.

Pub Date: March 8, 1984

ISBN: 0679731369

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1984

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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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