Book Of the Week, 26th July 2021
Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half
Little Brown Book Group, 2021
This weeks favourite of the shortlist is Brit Bennett: The vanishing half.
The novel is following the story of two girls and their families, born in 1938 in Mallard, a fictional town in Louisiana, established in 1848. The town is unique as it is inhabited by light-skinned African Americans “who would never be white but refused to be treated like Negroes”.
Bennet presents the townsfolk as protective of their town: you marry within the community to maintain the lightness of bloodlines. This regulating of racial purity and the conservatism of provincial life, causes the twins to desert their mother and home. They are dreaming of a life in New Orleans. A city of relative freedoms in the 1950s.
The twins “creamy skinned, hazel eyed” identical twins, Stella and Desiree Vignes, are as different as they can be: Stella is bookish, biddable and somewhat dependent on her twin. Desiree is more headstrong and spirited. Stella soon leaves Desiree, disappearing into a life in which she “passes” as white. Their unity is unsettled and they have to make their own way, find their own identities.
“Bennett is a gifted storyteller. This generous, humane novel has many merits, not least its engrossing plot and richly detailed settings, from smoky small-town diners to gleaming laboratories. The novel proves to be a timely testament to the redemptive powers of community, connection and looking beyond the self.” (The Guardian review, 4th June 2020).