DAUGHTERS OF THE HOUSE

A 1992 Booker Prize finalist, this gothic sixth novel by a London author, poet, and playwright (The Visitation—not reviewed) plumbs the dark secrets left in a villa in Normandy by the Nazi officers who were once billeted there. Twenty years ago, during the French Occupation of WW II, ascetic Antoinette Martin of Normandy became pregnant and was forced to give up her dream of becoming a nun. She married a local low-born admirer and gave birth to a girl, ThÇräse; soon after, Antoinette's widowed sister, Madeleine, returned to the villa with her own young daughter, LÇonie, to keep Antoinette company. Cousins ThÇräse and LÇonie, who disliked each other instantly, struggled through their postwar childhoods in an uneasy truce, aware but not aware that in the depths of the old villa lived a secret they were forbidden to uncover. As the girls approached puberty, Antoinette died of breast cancer; Madeleine made a bid to marry her sister's widower; and ThÇräse and LÇonie learned that a Jewish family hidden by the Martins during the war were betrayed by one of the villagers and murdered in the nearby forest. The Catholic cousins' reaction to this horrifying news was to witness the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary on the very spot where the Jews were killed. Soon, spiritually ambitious ThÇräse learned to use her visions to secure herself a place in a convent, while LÇonie gave up on spiritualism altogether and threw herself into a life of sensuality. The final discovery—that Antoinette may have been impregnated by the man who betrayed the Jews, and that the cousins may actually be the twin offsprings of that act—separated ThÇräse and LÇonie for 20 years- -until the burden of their secret brings ThÇräse home to complete their story. Breathless and sinister but frustratingly opaque: the power of Roberts's novel lies in what remains unsaid.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1993

ISBN: 0-688-04610-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1993

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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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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

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