Readable and mildly engaging but lacking fresh insights into very familiar material.

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THE DUST THAT FALLS FROM DREAMS

Another historical novel from de Bernières (A Partisan’s Daughter, 2008, etc.): the agreeable, albeit predictable saga of an English family transformed by World War I.

It begins with the usual scene of prewar tranquility, in this case a 1902 coronation party in suburban London. Mr. and Mrs. McCosh, an investor/inventor and his eccentric wife, contentedly survey their four daughters. Beautiful Rosie, though only 12, already plans to marry the handsome boy next door, Ashbridge Pendennis. Somehow it seems inevitable, as the action jumps ahead 12 years and Ash announces that he’s enlisted immediately after becoming engaged to Rosie, that he won’t survive and will leave her grieving in a morbidly unhealthy way. Indeed, although a good portion of the book concerns the combat experiences of Ash in the infantry and Daniel Pitt, another London neighbor, in the Royal Flying Corps, its central subject is the adjustments everyone must make afterward. It’s not just veterans who miss the sense of purpose wartime service brought; Rosie’s sisters, who all did volunteer work, are both enticed and made restless by the expanded vistas for women that open after 1918. Their mother is horrified by this and every other postwar social change, described in the boilerplate passages de Bernières favors for scene-setting. Daniel waits patiently for Rosie to get over Ash, but that doesn’t happen even after they’re married. We get pretty tired of mopey Rosie, and although Christabel, Ottilie, and Sophie McCosh are livelier, each is a one-note outline—Christabel loves another woman, Ottilie is serenely mysterious, Sophie adorably misuses esoteric words—rather than a fully fleshed character. The large supporting cast is also sketched in broad strokes as the story moves forward, centered mostly on Rosie and Daniel. Their try for a new start in a new location, coupled with an abrupt ending and a hint in the author’s acknowledgments, suggests the McCoshes and kith will be making further appearances.

Readable and mildly engaging but lacking fresh insights into very familiar material.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-94648-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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