A trove of charming correspondence from literature’s most famous “noise phobic.”

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LETTERS TO HIS NEIGHBOR

Recently discovered letters from Proust to a Paris neighbor show the author’s kindness even when he complained about the noise.

One might wonder why a man as sensitive to noise as Proust chose to live in a Paris building where someone might set up a dental practice two floors above him. That’s what happened in the early 1900s, when a harp-playing artist named Madame Marie Williams and her husband, an American dentist named Charles, moved into Proust’s building at 102 Boulevard Haussmann. Despite the noise, Proust and the Williamses developed a close friendship, as is documented in these letters written between 1908 and 1916. Proust may have soundproofed his apartment with “a marbleized, decorative cork,” as Davis writes in her translator’s note, but that wasn’t enough to keep out sounds of hammering or carpet beating. Yet it’s hard to imagine politer requests to keep it down: “If in the morning there is hammering above me it’s all over for the whole day for resting,” Proust writes in 1909, a request for silence that included a gift of four pheasants. The tone of these letters, as Proust scholar Jean-Yves Tadié notes in the foreword, is that “of ever growing intimacy” between Proust and Marie. He shows her sections of what would become Volume 2 of In Search of Lost Time and expresses sadness over the World War I bombing of Reims cathedral. Marie’s responses, thought to be lost, would have made the book more engaging, but Proust’s letters are as poetic as one might expect. They also show his self-deprecating wit. In 1911, he writes that, when repairs to Marie’s apartment are finished, “the silence will resound in my ears so abnormally that, mourning the vanished electricians and the departed carpet-layer, I will miss my Lullaby.”

A trove of charming correspondence from literature’s most famous “noise phobic.”

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2411-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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