Vague on facts but intense, atmospheric and erotic, this is more prose poem than historical novel.

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SIGNED, MATA HARI

An impressionistic portrait of the famous spy—in reality an abused wife and mother with intense sexual charms.

Abandoned by her father and orphaned when her mother died, young Dutch Margaretha finds herself working for a teacher who molests her, then dependent on her unsympathetic uncle. Seeking escape, she enters into a bad marriage to MacLeod, a cruel, promiscuous, half-deranged army captain. Murphy’s third novel (Here They Come, 2006, etc.) switches between Margaretha’s dreamy but chronological account of her unhappy progression and scenes from later prison life, in which she is tended by nuns and interrogated by the French for spying. After the birth of their son Norman, MacLeod and Margaretha move to Java, where his behavior worsens. Wearied by the tropical rain, Margaretha starts to use the name Mata Hari, meaning sunrise. She has an affair with another Dutch officer while MacLeod visits prostitutes. A daughter, Non, is born, but MacLeod’s abuse of one of the servants leads to the children being poisoned and Norman dies. Mata Hari survives typhoid and eventually persuades MacLeod to move back to Europe. Once there, he ejects her from the marriage and excludes her from care of Non. Short of cash, Mata Hari is forced to become an erotic dancer in Paris and mistress to men who reward her with jewels, cash, even a horse. When World War I begins she is asked to spy by the French but exposed by the Germans, later arrested in Paris, tried and shot. All she ever wanted was her daughter back.

Vague on facts but intense, atmospheric and erotic, this is more prose poem than historical novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-11264-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007

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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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