The lack of narrative drive may irk some readers, but those who appreciate her able combination of intelligence, wit, and...



From veteran novelist Drabble (The Pure Gold Baby, 2013, etc.), a meditation on modern old age spiked with astringent humor on a subject “too serious for tears.”

Fran Stubbs, “well turned seventy,” works for a charitable trust to create better housing for the elderly, but she herself lives in a shabby, poorly maintained North London apartment building for the sake of the garage and the view. She’s not ready to move into expensive exurban retirement like her friend Josephine, and she’s relieved not to be housebound like her terminally ill former husband, Claude. Yet Fran is wryly conscious of her fading memory and increasing scattiness as she bustles around to conferences, brings ready-to-reheat meals over to Claude (with whom she’s resumed friendly relations a half-century after their divorce), and lets Josephine talk her into seeing a production of Happy Days. These typically self-aware Drabble women agree that Samuel Beckett could have spared himself all that angst about impending death when he was in his 20s and 30s: “There’s time for that later, plenty of time.” Mortality is much closer at hand for Bennett, an elderly historian living in the Canary Islands, and his considerably younger but now middle-aged lover, Ivor. “Who will push [my] wheelchair?” Ivor wonders, fearful that he will be alone and destitute once the man he has tended for so long dies. The link between these two storylines is Fran’s hard-drinking son, Christopher, a television arts presenter who has a professional connection with Bennett, and numerous other vividly drawn characters swarm in a text notable for Drabble’s customarily sharp social observations and willingness to let her plot amble where it will. The final destination of several key figures should come as no surprise, given their age, but the author evokes a palpable sense of sorrow and loss nonetheless.

The lack of narrative drive may irk some readers, but those who appreciate her able combination of intelligence, wit, and rue will willingly follow Drabble into the sunset.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-13495-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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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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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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