Lively’s ability to reveal character sharply and instantaneously makes this an unalloyed pleasure.



This collection of eight short semi-fictional works demonstrates the effortlessly transparent style that has won English novelist Lively (The Photograph, 2003, etc.) both a Booker Prize and an appreciative international audience.

Describing these stories as “confabulations” in the psychoanalytic sense of being a compound of memories and imagined events, the author takes actual bits of her life—a moment of choice or menace—and reconstructs what might have happened, had things gone a different route. These phantom existences begin with the memory of growing up in Cairo during World War II, when British ex-pats fled Rommel’s incursions by going either to South Africa or Palestine. Lively, a child of six, her mother and her nanny, went to Palestine. In the imagined work, narrated from the point of view of the pretty young nanny, a similar trio takes a ship that is torpedoed on the way to Cape Town, and the child dies. In other narratives, Lively’s fictional equivalent, age 22, dies in a plane crash in 1956; her handbag is discovered 50 years later and returned to a younger half-sister, who tries to envision that lost life. Some incarnations are funnier and more robust. In “Transatlantic,” Lively’s alter ego marries an American, lives in New England and visits the quaint home of a stodgy, patronizing aunt and uncle, where “a large dog lumbered occasionally from one resting place to another.” There is a charming modesty to this work, as Lively puts herself at the periphery of other imagined lives, or allows herself to be extinguished by chance events. Nearing the end of her eminent career, the author seems content to recede, to acknowledge the onrush of time, while showing an unobtrusive gratitude for the world she has been permitted to enjoy.

Lively’s ability to reveal character sharply and instantaneously makes this an unalloyed pleasure.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03447-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?



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

Did you like this book?