HOTEL SPLENDID

In these three slim, yet amazingly potent, novels, French author Redonnet (translated into English here for the first time) creates a triptych joined by theme, symbol, voice, style, and temperament. In the first book, Hìtel Splendid, an unnamed narrator struggles to run the family hotel, which was the epitome of convenience in her grandmother's day but now suffers daily plagues of rats, rotting wood, failing plumbing, leaky roofs, and floods and bacteria from the swamp on which it was built. If this isn't enough, she also cares for two harping sisters: Ada, the sickly one, and Adel, the failed actress. In the second novel, Forever Valley, a teenage girl, one of three inhabitants of a hamlet that lost its villagers to another valley below it, comes of age when the parish father, whom she looks after, sends her to become a prostitute in the dance hall across the road. This new independence allows her to pursue a project of looking for the dead by digging pits in the parish garden—but instead of skeletons, she discovers the water that will soon flood Forever Valley and bring electricity to the valley below. Finally, Rose Mellie Rose tells the story of Mellie, an abandoned baby raised by an old woman named Rose in a souvenir shop on a waterfall miles from the nearest town. Rose dies when Mellie turns 12; Mellie gets her period, travels to town, has sex with the truck driver who gives her a ride, discovers that she lives on an island, learns to read and write, becomes a municipal worker, marries a failing fisherman who refuses to accept that the lagoon has gone dry, gets pregnant, leaves her baby (also named Rose) in the grotto where Mellie herself was found as an infant, and, hemorrhaging, goes to the beach to die. Any reader will see that these tales have much in common. Each features a commanding female protagonist trapped in her place of origin, neither able nor wanting to escape from the home that gave her life but which now threatens to destroy her. The narrator of Hìtel Splendid never questions her doomed quest to keep the establishment running, the girl in Forever Valley leaves only when dam construction forces her to, and Mellie turns down several job offers on the continent and submits to nature's call to death. Redonnet's prose reads like the barest poetry, devoid of description, while still managing to paint vivid pictures of the rich landscapes that play a vital role in every story. Most impressively, these three tales represent an evolution of the feminine from the alienated, sexless martyr to the prostituted prepubescent on the verge of self-knowledge to the self-loving, self-determined Mellie, who dies to give her baby a chance at a better life. To her credit, Redonnet packs these jewels with much more: highly personal images of utopia, the importance of heritage, the necessity of burying the dead to approach the future. Like traveling a very long, very dark tunnel into a blinding, bright, beautiful light.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 1994

ISBN: 0-8032-8953-7

Page Count: 123

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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