Not much happens in these elegantly written pages, but the atmospherics are perfect: a brilliant evocation of place, memory,...

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VILLA TRISTE

In his fourth novel, first published in 1975, Nobel Prize–winning French writer Modiano develops his now-trademark demimonde of secrets kept and personae doffed and donned.

The time is 1960, the setting a small resort town alongside an alpine lake somewhere within easy distance of the Franco-Swiss border. Hovering on the horizon is the dark cloud of the Algerian War. An 18-year-old boy has come to that town from Paris: “A disagreeable, police-heavy atmosphere prevailed there. Far too many roundups for my taste. Exploding bombs.” The choice of venue is deliberate, for in this little town the protagonist can idle the days away without drawing any unnecessary attention—and if attention does center on him, he can slip away across the lake. “I didn’t yet know,” he says meaningfully, “that Switzerland doesn’t exist.” Given to gloom and panic, he takes on an improbable pseudonym but keeps to himself, walling himself off in the mountains. Yet—well, cherchez la femme, and la femme will turn up, this time in the form of the beautiful Yvonne Jacquet, who lives a luxurious life of villas, Great Danes, and sports cars between film auditions. “You understand, she’s here incognito,” hisses her companion, a so-called doctor elegant of scarf and cigarette—and a man who himself has a lot to hide. (He often boasts that he has practiced medicine in Switzerland, at which our protagonist thinks, “each time I felt like asking him, ‘What kind of medicine?’ ") One theory of hiding successfully, the reader supposes, might be to surround oneself with people with even greater reasons to keep a low profile, but for all that, these people live as if their lives depended on being recognized—typically mysterious Modiano behavior, in other words, with shades of Giorgio Bassani and Graham Greene.

Not much happens in these elegantly written pages, but the atmospherics are perfect: a brilliant evocation of place, memory, and loss, shot through with an aching nostalgia.

Pub Date: May 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59051-767-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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