SELENE OF THE SPIRITS

paper 0-86538-095-3 Moving, deeply satisfying fiction, set with great exactitude in 1870s England, that chronicles the turbulent romance of an ambitious, scientist with a gifted young medium. Sir William Herapath, well married and already a respected member of the scientific establishment, is first drawn to the frank young psychic Selene Cook by her reputed powers. Convinced that some kernel of truth lies behind the flummery associated with spiritualism (dismissed by many as mere parlor tricks and smoke), Herapath lets himself be talked into launching a lengthy investigation of Selene’s powers. She moves into his mansion, where, largely ignored by his moody, death-obsessed wife (who has just embraced the wonderfully Victorian fad of taxidermy), Selene begins to seduce Herapath. At the start, she’s simply desperate to escape from her poor, seedy family and make a name for herself. Herapath quickly discovers that her most spectacular gifts (such as manifesting a spirit form while tied to a chair) are false. Only later, after the two have begun an affair, does he discover that she really commands psychic powers; she is, for instance, unerringly able to read people’s futures in their faces. The affair ends disastrously: in an attempt to preserve his reputation, Herapath renounces both the pregnant Selene and his likely discoveries. None of this is entirely surprising. Still, Pritchard (The Instinct for Bliss, 1995, etc.), thanks to the complex life of her characters—and to her sparring but effective use of period diction and detail—manages to make it all seem new. Selene’s last days, and Herapath’s long struggle to deal with his guilt, are rendered with considerable power and emotional resonance. The bittersweet mysticism of the conclusion seems especially apt. A distinctive achievement, both as a historical novel and a romance. Fit to stand on the shelf with Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Byatt’s Possession. (Author tour; TV satellite tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 1998

ISBN: 0-86538-094-5

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Ontario Review

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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