A veddy British story for fans of Amis père et fils, Malcolm Bradbury, and even Dickens. Nicely done.



Life is a series of accidents—that just gets weirder when you throw in politics.

Britisher Francis (Ann the Word, 2001, etc.) opens with a wry note averring that his setting, the Manchester suburb of Costford, lies “in exactly the position occupied by Stockport in the real world.” The two places share the same gray skies and—at least in 1970—the same sooty air. Presumably, the people of real-world northern England share the spirit of those in Costford, too, who aren’t at all content with their lot, though not exactly miserable. They make do with the hands they’ve been dealt, for better or worse, and keep that stiff upper lip even when they’re snogging behind their spouses’ backs. The tale centers on May, a world-weary Tory politico charged with caring for her senile mother, who has taken to undressing at inappropriate moments. May has had an affair with Trevor, a conflicted Labourite much infatuated with women in general: “Funnily enough he began to have the occasional fantasy about Ann, despite the fact that her sex appeal was zero. It wasn’t a question of whether she was attractive or not, but simply that she seemed to give out no signals at all. Perhaps that in the end became a sort of appeal.” Trevor and May grope inexpertly by night, and lock horns by day over a planned housing project that will make a good portion of Costford a high-rise slum, maybe posing a menace to aircraft as well. Both activities seem to make them happy. Meanwhile, the rest of Costford goes about trying to cash in on the housing-estate deal, find new loves, keep the loves they have, or sneak off to warmer climes. Until, that is, tragedy strikes.

A veddy British story for fans of Amis père et fils, Malcolm Bradbury, and even Dickens. Nicely done.

Pub Date: July 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-00-714110-6

Page Count: 360

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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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.


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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