With its inexhaustible curiosity about the way the world works, this funny, exciting work is another milestone in a...

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A WEEK IN DECEMBER

Two plots—one financial, the other terrorist—are being hatched, but there’s much more going on in this absorbing big-canvas view of contemporary London from Faulks (Engleby, 2007, etc.).

John Veals, a middle-aged hedge fund manager and the coldest of cold fish, is planning the collapse of a major British bank. His goal? To pump even more billions of dollars into his fund. Hassan al-Rashid, a young Muslim raised in Scotland, belongs to a jihadist cell. By chance, their schemes will climax simultaneously in December 2007. Faulks uses the tried-and-true countdown device as a backbeat. In the foreground is lucid if rather too lengthy exposition. To explain Veals’s strategy, Faulks leads us through the labyrinth of puts, calls, trades and more, while for Hassan he limns a credible step-by-step recruitment process. As a counterweight to the blandishments of the Koran, Faulks offers the reader the rational humanism of Gabriel Northwood, an impoverished barrister; the strident voice of the Koran reminds Gabriel uncomfortably of the voices plaguing his schizophrenic brother Adam. Gabriel’s somber hospital visits are a corrective to a shockingly cruel, hugely lucrative reality show that pillories the participants, all crazies. (Veals’s teenage son, a fan of the show, will join Adam after a drug-induced psychotic episode.) The light in Gabriel’s sad life is a new client, Jenni Fortune, the mixed-race driver of a subway train and devotee of video games. Unlike digital seductions (another Faulks theme), the love that grows between Gabriel and Jenni is piercingly real. For light relief, there’s Hassan’s wealthy businessman father, panicked before an audience with the Queen, soliciting advice on Great Books from an embittered reviewer, a veteran of the literary racket. Remarkably, Faulks retains control of his material as he shows us a world in which money rules, tunnel vision destroys and love remains the touchstone and redeemer.

With its inexhaustible curiosity about the way the world works, this funny, exciting work is another milestone in a distinguished career.

Pub Date: March 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-53291-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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