A too faithful retelling that, despite some vivid moments, ultimately has little life of its own.

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COUNTRY

The Iliad in the Irish borderlands during the final months of the Troubles.

Northern Ireland, 1996. Despite the cease-fire, Shane Campbell (alias Pig), the Officer Commanding of a Provisional IRA unit, is planning a strike on a nearby British Army garrison. Why? Because Pig’s sister-in-law Nellie, the wife of his brother Brian (alias Dog), has tarnished the Campbell name by turning “tout” (Loyalist/British agent) and then running away to England with her handler. Sound familiar? Just you wait. The action opens with a disagreement between Pig and Liam O’Brien (unsubtle alias: Achill). After Pig is forced to return “his girl” to her father, a local Protestant landowner, he decides that he must have Achill’s girl as a replacement. Achill—the famed Border Sniper, hugely feared by the IRA’s enemies—rebels against Pig’s tyranny by putting down his arms, an act which emboldens the British (the best of whom is SAS Capt. Henry Morrow) to set an ambush for Pig’s team. The rest is…well…The Iliad. And that’s the problem. Writing in a fast-paced Irish lilt, debut bard Hughes is at his best (which, mind you, can be good) when he’s least faithful to his Homeric blueprint. His reimagining of Helen (here Nellie) is especially striking, showing how a young woman’s search for freedom ends up entangling her (because abortions are illegal) in the very place and conflict from which she seeks escape. But Nellie’s section is, alas, an exception. Hughes is faithful to Homer’s story at the expense of his own. His characters are not themselves but proxies for the Homeric originals; they don the armor and read the lines but are lacking in on-the-page emotional complexity. Similarly, dozens of scenes are included to simply check off their corresponding plot box in The Iliad—and therefore deliver very little affect of their own. The result? The novel, despite its promising start, quickly devolves into a litany of allusions. Look! The Republican pub is called the Ships! Look! The British fort is called Castle William but some kids monkeyed with the sign and now it reads “Castle Illiam!” Look! Pat (nee Patroclus) is literally wearing Achill’s body armor! Look! Achill, the famed long-distance sniper, has literally chased Henry three times around Illiam’s walls on foot!

A too faithful retelling that, despite some vivid moments, ultimately has little life of its own.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-294032-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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