Not that de Rosnay ever wrote literary fiction, but previous books like Sarah’s Key (2008) have more emotional substance...

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THE OTHER STORY

A best-selling French author with writer's block agonizes at a luxurious Italian resort in de Rosnay’s oddly static latest (The House I Loved, 2012, etc.).

The main action here consists of 29-year-old Nicolas Kolt sitting around feeling sorry for himself at the Gallo Nero off the Tuscan coast. Oh, sure, he’s rich and famous, thanks to his globally best-selling first novel, The Envelope. But that was published four years ago and was based on the true history of his enigmatic father. Without real-life inspiration to lean on, Nicolas is having a hard time coming up with a new book. Though he assures his anxious publisher that he's writing away, he’s mostly wasting time on social media, exchanging pornographic instant messages with a married woman in Germany, and being told off by old friends for having become lazy, selfish and spoiled. Readers will heartily agree as they endure Nicolas’ solipsistic musings about how much he misses his former love Delphine and how he should really call his mother, all the while checking his Facebook page to see if there are any new photos taken by an anonymous fan who's also vacationing at the Gallo Nero. The swanky setting is over-the-top enough for a Harold Robbins novel (ditto the Blackberry-enabled sex scenes), and de Rosnay’s way of demonstrating that Nicolas is a real writer is to show him watching the other guests, which might work if his observations ever went beyond superficial judgments. His 22-year-old girlfriend, Malvina, is a whiny bore, the extensive flashbacks not much more interesting as they limn Nicolas’ childhood, his father’s mysterious death and his discovery of previously unknown Russian roots. The climactic shipwreck that finally gives Nicolas new literary material is ridiculous but a relief; at least we won’t have to hear any more about his writer’s block.

Not that de Rosnay ever wrote literary fiction, but previous books like Sarah’s Key (2008) have more emotional substance than this.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04513-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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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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