Tough-minded, uncompromising, and not always a lot of fun. But Drabble’s longtime admirers will cheer to see the author of...

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THE SEVEN SISTERS

Following The Peppered Moth (2001), a novel based on her mother’s life, Drabble goes even closer to the bone in a tale of late-middle-aged discontent.

Recently dumped for a younger woman by husband Andrew, Candida Wilton is angry, estranged from her three daughters, and, as an abandoned housewife with no skills or prospects, disinclined to be patronized by overbearing Suffolk neighbors like Sally. She moves to a shabby section of London and begins studying The Aeneid at an adult education center; when it’s shut down, she warily joins the trendy health club that replaces it. The first half, “Her Diary,” offers Candida’s bitter but often sharply funny observations of her smug ex, her status-seeking offspring, health-club members, and other residents of the new, multicultural London. Readers may agree when she writes, “What a mean, self-righteous, self-pitying voice is mine,” but this long, grim opening section skillfully sets up “Italian Journey,” the hesitantly happy description of a trip taken by newly affluent Candida (an unexpected pension windfall) to Tunis and Naples. She’s following in Aeneas’s footsteps under the guidance of the elderly Mrs. Jerrold, who taught the defunct Aeneid class. Other companions include childhood chum Julia, a bestselling novelist past her commercial prime; cheerfully hedonistic Cynthia, married to a wealthy gay art-dealer; and the loathsome Sally. All seven are no longer young, each wondering what Julia bluntly asks: “So what is the point of us?” Candida: “The solution to the problem is death.” Part Three suggests that this may be the author’s final answer, though her middle daughter angrily refutes many of Candida’s previous assertions. Almost everything we thought we knew gets upended in Part Four, where Candida has built a new life and offers cautious hope for her future.

Tough-minded, uncompromising, and not always a lot of fun. But Drabble’s longtime admirers will cheer to see the author of The Needle’s Eye and The Ice Age once again following her muse into uncomfortable places.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-15-100740-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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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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