Today, I’m back with a review of a brilliant new novel from Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half.
I haven’t posted a review in a while as I’ve not been inspired to post at the moment and I think it’s good to take a break now and again. But I’ve been writing a lot, and of course, reading. I’m back with a review of a book that’s talked about constantly at the moment, a huge bestseller and for good reason too. It’s The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. But first, what’s it about? Here’s the synopsis:
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
Sounds good, right? I haven’t read her previous novel The Mothers but I got excited hearing the buzz around this book and I thought it sounded interesting, so I ordered a copy and as soon as I started reading it, I just knew I was reading something special. I loved this story – it captivated me from the very beginning. A tale of two sisters, two daughters that deal with a lot of brilliant and captivating themes. From race, family, identity, relationships, desire, escaping your past, and so much more.
The writing is beautiful. Like beautiful. It flows from the page and I couldn’t stop marking pages with some of my favourite quotes. The characters were all brilliantly written, even the minor characters felt like real people with real thoughts and desires and that’s the testament of how brilliant a writer she is. The writing to me felt completely contemporary (even though it’s set in the 50’s to the 90’s) but there’s an air of a timeless feel, too. A modern classic, if you will. There’s huge heart at the centre of this book and that runs throughout the book.
“As they grew, they no longer seemed like one body split in two, but two bodies poured into one, each pulling it her own way.”
There is so much to love in this book. I loved the relationship between Jude and Reece, particularly. There was something very powerful in that relationship and rooted in truth and heart. I loved the exploration of race in the two sisters when one passes for being white and with that, hiding her past from her new family. I loved the scope of the novel, too. From the childhood of the twins to them growing up to then following their own daughters and what happens when they meet for the first time. I loved how identity is explored in the novel: from gender, class, and also in your career. I especially loved how this was explored in the prism of acting. Of being someone else, of having thoughts of someone else, in a new world. The power of this novel I think is the timeless feel of it, of the layers and layers woven in the story. If you read it again, you will pick out something new or a new interpretation of it and I think that’s the power of literature and great writing.
This is a novel that everyone’s talking about – and for good reason, too. This is a novel to escape into, to lose yourself for a while and find yourself at the same time. A book I won’t forget in a hurry and I can’t wait to read The Mothers next, either. This book is a very special book, indeed. I think this is going to win the Women’s Prize next year and I hope it does. I’ll be rooting for it – loud and clear.
Have you read The Vanishing Half? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!