Faber marches on, establishing himself as one of the most versatile fiction writers working today.

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THE COURAGE CONSORT

THREE NOVELLAS

Fully drawn characters and arresting premises in three vivid, varied tales, courtesy of the Dutch-born Scottish author best known for his Victorian historical The Crimson Petal and the White (2002).

“The Fahrenheit Twins” is a modern (perhaps futuristic) fairy tale in which the sibling offspring of anthropological researchers on an Arctic archipelago grow up benignly neglected and ignored by their respective parents. The death of their mother plunges the children (Tainto’lilith and her brother Marko’cain) into a “ritual” burial voyage that’s also an odyssey of discovery and shedding of illusions about adults and about their own relationship to the natural world they labor to quantify and understand. “The Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps” focuses on Sian, a 30-ish archaeological conservator working on a dig at an abbey graveyard in the English seaside village of Whitby. Burdened by grievous injuries sustained in war-torn Bosnia and by a recurring “dream of being first seduced, then murdered,” Sian achieves a paradoxical understanding of her limitations and her potential through an unresolved flirtation with a handsome young doctor and her deciphering of an 18th-century “scroll” whose “confession” starkly illustrates her own world’s distance from a bygone one sustained by social convention and religious faith. This beautifully plotted story displays strengths even more impressively evident in the title novella, the story of a labor undertaken by “the seventh most-renowned serious vocal ensemble in the world.” Ensconced in a Belgian chateau, the five members of the eponymous a cappella consort rehearse eccentric postmodernist composer Pino Fugazza’s exasperatingly intricate “Partitum Mutante,” a portentous musical allegory of (among other things) the birthing process. Faber’s elegant tale deftly traces relationships among the embattled singers, particularly the consort director’s wife, soprano Catherine Courage, as the “Partitum” and her surroundings expose her own emotional divisions and needs. It’s a most unusual story, and a brilliant achievement.

Faber marches on, establishing himself as one of the most versatile fiction writers working today.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-15-101061-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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