THE RUSSIAN GIRL

As pleasantly cantankerous as ever, the venerable Kingsley Amis (We Are All Guilty, 1992) once again casts his gimlet eye on the vanities of the age. Breezy drawing-room comedy here disguises his serious commentary on the relations between art and politics. Coming from Amis, of course, this 21st novel is also another salvo in the war between the sexes. Richard Vaisey, a distinguished scholar of Russian literature at the London Institute of Slavonic Studies, gladly suffers marriage to his peculiar wife, Cordelia, a beautiful heiress with an odd accent and a talent for pinching pennies. Once Richard's attentions begin to focus on the visiting poet, Anna Danilova, he realizes how truly nasty Cordelia is. Anna, for her part, poses a more interesting problem. She has come to England to enlist support for her ne'er-do-well brother, a petty convict in a Soviet jail. Because this is set before the collapse of communism, her plan involves establishing herself as an important artisitic critic of the regime. Unfortunately, Richard thinks her poetry is dreck, an opinion shared by the famous novelist in exile, Kotolynov. While Richard's best friend, the wealthy Czech, Crispin Radetsky, enlists the powerful in Anna's support, Richard himself comes undone. He neglects his students; Cordelia disappears; and he finally understands what a "randy bastard" he's become. Running off with Anna is a matter of prudence, not morality, for Richard, who contemplates the severe financial consequences of his act. Meanwhile, the scorned Cordelia proves to be a shrew of truly Amis-like dimensions, orchestrating her revenge with totalitarian glee. Though Richard compromises his sense of artistic merit for his love of Anna, things turn out okay in the end. After all, everyone here is terribly droll and sophisticated when it comes to plain adultery. Vintage Amis — as divisive, compelling, and hilarious as the Bobbitt trial.

Pub Date: May 1, 1994

ISBN: 0140251723

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1994

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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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