Alice McVeigh

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (with spoilers!)

An article by Alice McVeigh

I’m calling a near-miss on this one.

I’m glad that I read it (hooked by the start, lost interest in the middle, re-enrolled near the end)… However, I remain unconvinced.

TOO many coincidences. (Jude’s encountering Kennedy…whaaaat?). TOO many unlikelihoods. (Transgender was a thing, mid-twentieth century? … really?)

Nor could I imagine how the passive, undemanding Stella suddenly found the nerve to risk everything – and, decades ago, it would have been everything – by choosing to impersonate a White person. Or how Desiree – so much more the bolder – so comprehensively lost her nerve, returning to Mallard and to waitressing forevermore.

Admittedly, both twins had witnessed the horrific racist murder of their father: an almost unimaginably traumatising event. But to expect us to believe, after the rebellious Desiree’s being the one to insist that her twin Stella escape with her to the big city, that she would rush back herself to the small town she loathed – and remain – while the stolid Stella supposedly found sufficient nerve to impersonate a White person… It just failed to make sense. Would have been a much better book had the twins switched fates, imho.

Having involved us in the twins – with some excellent writing, no question – the author summarily dumps Desiree and her much-missed twin in favour of their daughters. Jude was believable… but Kennedy never was. I almost DNF (did not finish) at this point, with the coincidences and the jolt of losing sight of the main characters, but the end of the book provided some sense of closure.

In fact, I’m very glad I read it, thanks to its eye-opening perspectives about racism and race generally. I even believe it to be an important book but – especially for a writer of Bennett’s ability – still a near-miss.

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