Beautifully written, with sufficient backstory to be enjoyed without first reading the previous two installments, this novel...

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SARAH THORNHILL

The saga of the Thornhill clan in early-19th-century Australia concludes in the final volume of Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner Grenville’s (The Secret River, 2006, etc.) trilogy.

Sarah Thornhill is the youngest daughter of William Thornhill, a man “sent out” from England in 1806 to New South Wales. Years later, with Sarah on the cusp of womanhood, Thornhill has become a prosperous river freighter, landowner and landlord of Thornhill’s Point along the Hawkesbury River. Sarah’s voice illuminates the tale, a voice true to a woman left illiterate in a time when land and sheep were treasured more than learning from a book. While the story is fictional, the book instructs on Australia’s early history: the land; the wealth to be made from sheep, seals and whales; the conflict between those who had “worn the broad arrow,” arriving as convicts, and those who came from proper society; and the oppressive and often bloody relationship between white settlers and the aboriginal people, termed “blacks.” The latter element provides the fundamental conflict within the novel, with Sarah falling in love with Jack Langland, a neighbor’s half-aboriginal son and sailing partner of Sarah’s older brother. Because of an ugly family secret, revealed only to Jack by Sarah's abusive stepmother, marriage between the two is impossible. Instead Sarah marries John Daunt, a wealthy Irishman, who owns a sheep farm out near the Limit of Location. When Sarah is sent word that her father is dying, she travels to Thornhill’s Point and learns the secret that kept Jack from marrying her. “Once you knew, there was no way to not know.” Jack soon returns from New Zealand, where he’s married a Maori woman, and asks Sarah to fulfill an obligation that might lead to a measure of reconciliation.

Beautifully written, with sufficient backstory to be enjoyed without first reading the previous two installments, this novel can be read as a dissection of a cultural clash or an allegory for colonialism, but at heart, the novel uses fiction to search for reason within history.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2024-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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