A standout addition to the crowded archive of Austen homages.

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THE MISSING MANUSCRIPT OF JANE AUSTEN

An American librarian discovers a never-published Jane Austen manuscript.

Samantha has accompanied her cardiologist boyfriend, Stephen, to London. While he attends a medical conference, she explores the environs of Oxford University, where she had pursued a doctorate in English literature before abandoning her studies to care for her dying mother. While browsing in a musty bookstore, Sam comes across a volume of poetry which contains an unfinished letter that her practiced eye (she’s now a rare-books librarian) identifies as having been written by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra. The letter mentions an early manuscript, circa 1802, which the then-unknown future authoress had mislaid at a Devonshire country house called Greenbriar. Anthony, a venture capitalist and the latest heir to Greenbriar, is happy to help locate the manuscript, particularly if its auction proceeds can save Greenbriar from creditors and fund his own startup. The manuscript, entitled The Stanhopes, is found in a secret compartment, and Sam and Anthony sit down to read the novel in its entirety, along with the reader. The Stanhopes is a very passable Jane Austen facsimile, with believable period locutions, much shorter sentences and more melodrama. (It would, after all, have been Jane’s first novel.) The plot details the fortunes of a village pastor, the Rev. Stanhope, whose wealthy patron casts him out of his parish, home and livelihood on a charge of gambling away church funds. When Stanhope is supplanted by the patron’s own nephew, the reverend’s clever, beautiful and musically gifted daughter, Rebecca, correctly smells a rat. Nevertheless, until his innocence can be proven, father and daughter must embark on an itinerary of exile during which they are reduced to relying on the at-times-dubious charity of close or distant relatives. This richly imagined Jane Austen “road novel” is such a page turner that the frame story, with its obvious but far less dramatic parallels to Rebecca and Stanhope’s plight, seems superfluous.

A standout addition to the crowded archive of Austen homages.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-425-25336-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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