THE WITCH OF EXMOOR

A startling, mordantly funny portrait of contemporary Britain, and Drabble's (The Gates of Ivory, 1992, etc.) best and most assured novel in years. At the heart of the action is Frieda Palmer, the increasingly eccentric matriarch of an eminently successful family. Frieda has gained fame for her eloquent, prophetic works on feminism (including The Matriarchy of War); her children are also variously successful: Gogo is a much-in-demand neurologist, married to an up- and-coming liberal politician; Rosemary is an influential figure in arts funding; and Daniel is a quietly accomplished barrister. The three, their spouses, and their children have gathered, as the story begins, to discuss what, if anything, can be done with their intemperate mother. She has recently engaged in a buffoonish battle with the government over taxes. And she has sold the family house, and bought a rambling, shabby hotel in Exmoor, on a cliff above the sea, where she lives alone. What will she do next? What of their reputations? And what of their inheritance? Their efforts to somehow assert control over Frieda's life eventually draw in their own children (including the free-spirited Emily, Daniel's daughter, and the brilliant, somber young Ben, Gogo's son) and set in motion a variety of subplots revealing the quiet hypocrisies at the heart of many of these lives and offering, in the person of Frieda, one of the more complex and original of Drabble's creations. A zestful, angry figure, fighting age, and struggling to come to terms with the horrific secret concerning her own marriage that she has long suppressed, Frieda, often fierce, arouses exasperation and affection in equal measure. This droll riff on King Lear manages to be both an intriguing portrait of a difficult woman and a sustained lampoon on the self-absorbed, righteous behavior of the British elite, related in prose of sustained vigor. Satire and melodrama, nicely mixed, and a thoroughly satisfying entertainment.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-100363-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?

more