ALL QUIET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

A journey through Purgatory takes amusing, appropriately elusive form in this mordant second novel by the English author of The Restraint of Beasts (1998). Mills’s suggestive title alludes both to its (nameless) narrator’s unfulfilled hope of journeying overland through Europe to India, and to Erich Maria Remarque’s classic fictional account of the wholesale slaughter of an entire continent’s young manhood. The story—told in a flat, affectless voice perfectly suited to its rural milieu—begins when its protagonist, “on holiday” at a lakeside campsite, accepts temporary work as a handyman for the phlegmatic Mr. Parker. All the narrator knows is that “Tommy” Parker is “into buying and selling”—farm machinery and oil drums—and is known locally, especially at the pubs the narrator visits nightly, for his terrible temper. One task after another (painting a fence, rowing boats broken loose from their moorings across a lake, taking over a milk run), accepted in lieu of paying rent, binds the narrator more firmly to the place he keeps planning to leave. Before realizing how acclimated he’s become, he’s an essential member of his favorite pub’s darts team, and the compliant drudge who does homework for Mr. Parker’s teenaged daughter. A hard rain on the day of his planned departure stalls his motorcycle—and Mr. Parker’s firm hold on him grows stronger. Warned that he must finish all the tasks assigned him “before Christmas,” the narrator gradually understands that, like the unidentified “one who was here before you,” his is not to reason why, but to work as ordered, then pass on to whatever lies ahead (some very pronounced images of descent and conflagration judiciously scattered throughout the closing pages, pretty clearly indicate where he’s going). Both Pilgrim’s Progress and the nearly forgotten allegorical novels of T.F. Powys (e.g., Mr. Weston’s Good Wine) come to mind. Still, this is an original and haunting creation: a vision of Judgment whose very opacity gives it impressive symmetry, comedy, and power.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-55970-495-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more