Mild and nostalgic, a fictionalized expansion of childhood memories that harks back to seemingly safer, simpler times.

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NOTWITHSTANDING

Linked short stories evoking a small British village celebrate—and mourn—middle England as it perhaps was in the central decades of the 20th century.

De Bernières (The Dust That Falls From Dreams, 2015, etc.), known mainly for his historical novels, notably Corelli’s Mandolin (1994), grew up in a village in the southeast of England and pays tribute here to the bright memories he holds of the natural world, the quirky folk, and the unique trades and dialects of that time and place. The stories, written over almost a decade, are good-humored and indulgent, as apparently is the fictional village of Notwithstanding, where class rules are observed and eccentricity is accepted. “The Girt Pike,” a standout tale that captures the essence of the book, describes stouthearted 11-year-old Robert, who catches a near-mythical fish, thereby shaping his own character and future. In “All My Everlasting Love,” another boy, Peter, in the urgent throes of puberty, fails to connect with his girlfriend but while waiting contemplates “the England that the English used to love, when England was still loved by the English.” Pets feature large in other tales—a cat whose death disrupts a dinner party in “Colonel Barkwell, Troodos and the Fish”; a dog whose peculiar fate brings on a burst of hysteria in “Mrs Griffiths’ Part-Time Job.” Elsewhere there are majors and baronets, a hedging-and-ditching man, a spy, a smelly peasant, repeated mentions of treasured, long-disappeared British cars, and tributes to bits of peerless British equipment, like the Intrepid Prince Regent fishing reel Robert is given for catching the pike. This community of sorts also includes ghosts, like the dead family in “This Beautiful House,” all part of the fond, backward-looking insubstantiality of the book’s world.

Mild and nostalgic, a fictionalized expansion of childhood memories that harks back to seemingly safer, simpler times.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-96987-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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