Thoroughly captivating: the whole medieval panorama re-achieved by a modern, with all the atmosphere of the old.

READ REVIEW

THE CLERKENWELL TALES

The erudite and entertaining Ackroyd brings 1380s London to life all over again, with many a nod to The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer set his people on the road, but there’s no actual pilgrimage in Ackroyd (The Plato Papers, 2000, etc.), whose characters pretty much stay in London. The Canterbury pilgrims do appear again, by name and vocation, though noting the differences between Chaucer’s characters and Ackroyd’s can be as much fun as crediting the similarities. Once again, they’re hardly a fault-free lot, though Ackroyd throws us a curve or two—his Physician is good through and through, his Pardoner hardly so bad a guy, and, unlike Chaucer’s saintly Clerk, Ackroyd’s is up for skullduggery indeed. What binds the tales together (aside from the much shared humanity in the close confines of a medieval city) is, not surprisingly, politics. Readers of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays will be right at home: the tales here are told over exactly the same time as Henry Bolingbroke returns from France to reclaim the throne and depose (and then worse) Richard II. In fact, much of Ackroyd’s drama is generated through the machinations of a radically religious secret pro-Bolingbroke cell led by the truly monstrous William Exmewe (the Friar), whose belief as a so-called “predestined man” is that nothing one does for the good cause can be a sin—and readers will learn soon enough what Exmewe is capable of doing, as will Thomas Gunter (the Physician), Miles Vavasour (the Man of Law), and others. As the political crisis deepens, so does the threat to one of the cloistered nuns, Clarice, who, thought to be mad, emits prophetic utterances that displease the Prioress, stir up the townspeople, and most severely anger the king’s protectors. There will be arrests, interrogations, and worse before stability returns.

Thoroughly captivating: the whole medieval panorama re-achieved by a modern, with all the atmosphere of the old.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-51121-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

more