Hardy’s lack of novelistic skill hobbles her attempt to pull together the personal and the political, the past and the...

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THE WONDER HOUSE

Kashmir is the setting for this messy first novel by a British nonfiction author (Bollywood Boy, 2003, etc.).

It’s October 1999. A coup in Pakistan rattles nerves in Indian Controlled Kashmir. The majority of the population is Muslim, and Muslim guerillas have been fighting the army for ten years. Even the unabashedly secular Gracie Singh feels the ripples as she totters around her houseboat on idyllic Nagin Lake, across from the summer capital of Srinagar. English Gracie, pushing 80, is the widow of an Indian aristocrat; her beloved son Hari died young in a car accident. A feisty eccentric, well-lubricated by gin, Gracie is the default protagonist, cared for by a mute, Suriya Abdullah, and her beautiful daughter, Lila. The Abdullahs are a powerful local clan; their effective head, Masood, is Gracie’s landlord and erstwhile drinking companion. Now Muslims are under pressure to be devout, and Masood has fallen into line, though he’s distraught when his nephew Irfan disappears, fearing (correctly) that he has joined the guerillas. Indian soldiers come looking for Irfan, treating the Abdullahs with contempt; the Major, a disciplined bully, hints at ethnic cleansing. It’s the novel’s most powerful scene; Hardy’s grasp of her material is less sure when it comes to personal relationships. An unconvincing young journalist, Hal Copeman, arrives from England to interview Gracie, though she’s not part of his assignment. He becomes her houseguest and falls in love with Lila, a woman half in shadow. The mystery of her paternity, her mother’s mute condition and their loss of status, from rich Abdullahs to lowly servants, will not be revealed until the epilogue. Hal and Lila will make love twice, and Gracie will have a lovely 80th birthday party before the lurking violence closes in.

Hardy’s lack of novelistic skill hobbles her attempt to pull together the personal and the political, the past and the present.

Pub Date: April 9, 2006

ISBN: 0-8021-1822-4

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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