Moderately engaging, here and there. But there’s no real passion in it, and the end result is tepid.

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THE TRIAL OF TRUE LOVE

“Is true love possible between men and women?” asks the protagonist of this earnest second full-length fiction from the British screenwriter (Shadowlands, Gladiator) and novelist (The Society of Others, 2005).

The questioner is John “Bron” Dearborn, a writer of sorts who’s dismissed by his London flatmate (and former lover) Anna, just as he’s been commissioned to compose a book about the phenomenon of love at first sight. While staying with a friend in Devon, Bron experiences an epiphanic rapture upon sighting distractingly beautiful Flora Freeman (his fellow house guest)—a moment Bron instantly likens to the similar experience undergone by his book’s central subject: the fictional French Post-Impressionist Paul Marotte. Helplessly smitten, Bron courts the mercurial Flora (the itinerant wife of a rich older husband, who’s either endlessly indulgent or utterly indifferent to her). But she keeps sending mixed signals, first responding to Bron’s ardor, then quickly retreating from him. Help is offered by E.F. “Freddy” Christiansen, an independently wealthy Marotte scholar-collector—and Flora’s old friend—who also aids Bron’s researches, and arranges a rendezvous at his home in Switzerland, where Bron learns bitter lessons about the elusiveness of love and the difficulty of authenticating what our deepest instincts tell us must be real. The novel begins sluggishly, and marches somewhat stolidly in place, until Freddy’s Machiavellian posturing adds some much-needed malicious humor. Nicholson deftly layers in allusions to famous lovers (e.g., Bacall and Bogart, Victorian adventurer Richard Burton and his Isabell) who fit Bron’s thesis, and builds a beguiling house of cards surrounding the indistinct figures of Marotte and his beloved subject, English governess Kate Summer. But it’s all a setup, and neither the novel’s unsurprising payoff nor its annoyingly phony happy ending justify the redundant oversimplifications that lead up to them.

Moderately engaging, here and there. But there’s no real passion in it, and the end result is tepid.

Pub Date: March 21, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51625-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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