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The Vanishing Half

Hardback edition released 11/06/2020

by Brit Bennett

Relationship Stories Family Drama Sharing Diverse Voices Star Books

LoveReading Expert Review of The Vanishing Half

This exquisitely-written, multi-generational tale of twin sisters separated by a lie leaves a profound impression as it explores questions of identity, racism, colourism and belonging.

Supple and immersive, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is an epic, elegant story of sisters and mothers, of identity, and divisive racist and colourist mentalities that tear communities, families and individuals asunder. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful book, peppered with lines that latch (“When he visited, Desiree felt like a girl again, the years falling away like meat off the bone”), and an exquisitely crafted plot that threads generations through time, and across America - the Deep South, California, New York, and back. 

In Mallard, nobody married dark. Nobody left either.” But that’s exactly what identical twins Desiree and Stella do at the age of sixteen - they flee their “strange town” to start a new life in New Orleans. But after a time, Stella realises she can pass for white. After taking a job as a typist, she abandons Desiree for another new life as a white woman, eventually marrying her wealthy white boss who has no clue she’s black, and with whom she has a daughter who looks entirely white, to her relief. Meanwhile, Desiree’s path couldn’t be more different. She’s also married, with a “blueblack child”, and now, ten years after leaving, desperation forces her back to Mallard - she and her daughter need to escape domestic abuse.

Through Stella’s fiercely emotive storyline we witness the most despicable bigotry when a Black family moves into her white neighbourhood. She’s agonisingly conflicted and tangled, especially when facing an unravelling of her fabricated identity. “She was one of the lucky ones. A husband who adored her, a happy daughter, a beautiful home. How could she complain about any of it?” And yet she’s desperately unfulfilled. Emptiness eats away at her; she feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. As she says early on, she’s “split in two”. While following the sisters’ stories, Bennett brings in their daughters, and generations of secrets begin to bleed, creating a compelling, compassionate, consummately outstanding novel.

Joanne Owen

The Vanishing Half 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. 

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780349701462
Publication date: 11th June 2020
Author: Brit Bennett
Publisher: Dialogue Books an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 352 pages
Collections: 50+ Beautifully Written Books, 50+ Coming-of-age Masterworks, Summer Is Here - Feast Your Eyes on LoveReading's Ever-growing List of Summer Reading Recommendations,
Primary Genre Relationship Stories
Other Genres:
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Brit Bennett Press Reviews

This book has everything: enticing plot, memorable characters and beautiful, melodic writing -- Books of the Year - Prima

An engrossing, provocative read exploring themes of family, relationships and race -- Books of the Year - Express

Mesmerising . . . the powerful plot twists in the novel, which concludes in 1986, will keep you gripped until the end - Independent

I loved Bennett's rich elegant prose - Evening Standard

The year's most addictive novel - Metro

It has the ideal mix of social commentary and a pacy plot - I tore through it in a couple of days - The i

A stunning family saga about passing for white and the hollowness of the American dream that won her comparisons to Toni Morrison - Guardian

Old-fashioned epic meets modern identity politics in this excellent novel about the mixed fortunes of light-skinned black twins born in 1950s Louisiana - Telegraph

One of the most engaging books of the year - The i

Moving back and forth over three decades, and the course of an intricately detailed plot, Bennett's superb novel takes the issue of race as the starting point for a deep exploration of identity - Financial Times

I loved how Bennett explores the concepts of belonging and family - Cosmopolitan

Bennett tells the story of the girls' diverging trajectories in rich, elegant prose; you can literally swirl the words in your mouth - Evening Standard

Arguably the book of the summer, Bennett's second novel is a page-turning saga of race and family - The i

Bennett imbues her characters with immense heart, and does a great job of depicting their lives through the years. Even better, she works hard to draw resonances throughout her thoughtful and compassionate tale, looking at the dubious history of the Vignes girls' lineage, as well as the difficulties and struggles of their children as they stride forward into the world. There is a simple lyrical quality to Bennett's prose that evokes an entire place and time in just a few well-balanced sentences, and the way she treats all her characters with respect and care makes The Vanishing Half an engaging and thought-provoking read on every level - Big Issue

The intricacies of identity, of shadeism between differently skin-toned African-Americans, of white privilege are skilfully pursued in this poignant and clever multigenerational saga about race in America - The Times

A thought-provoking read about identity and gender -- Zoe West - Women's Weekly

A gorgeously rich, sweeping saga - Evening Standard

Bennett has been described as a successor to the likes of Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, and The Vanishing Half promises an absorbing exploration of race, family and the American history of passing -- Refinery29 An absorbing read that stays with you long after you've closed its pages - Herald

A triumph of empathetic storytelling . . . A terrific novel -- Claire Allfree - Daily Mail

Epic and unforgettable - Hello!

Beautifully written - Bella

It's intensely emotional and gorgeously written, with timely insights into the poison of racism - Sunday Mirror

The omniscient authorial voice is gentle and compassionate in a tale that inverts and confounds expectations . . . cleverly constructed to both match and critique the conservativism of the 1950s and 60s : the attenuated tone chimes with the restrained language and style of the period. Ultimately, it's a quietly damning account of acquiescing to an imitation of life and the delusion of the American dream -- Colin Grant - Observer

Bennett's wonderful novel tackles race and identity in the US, as the Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, who choose very different paths through life - The i

Bennett's second novel is an expertly plotted and empathetic exploration of race, identity and colourism in the tradition of Toni Morrison. - Guardian

Bennett explores the multiple ways in which race and gender can be authentic, permeable and socially constructed all at once, without ever passing judgment on her characters. Combining a mythic structure with emotionally rich social realism, this is a truly excellent novel -- Claire Allfree - Daily Mail

Fluent and openhearted . . . In a style as easy and candid as a detective story, Bennett scatters clues for us to gather just as, crucially, the twins' contrasting daughters, Jude and Kennedy, piece together fragments of their painful heritage -- Maria Crawford - Financial Times

A must-read . . . A tender story about race, family and identity - Best

Deft, dazzling, many-layered, highly detailed and emotionally absorbing . . . [Bennett] unpicks the terrible, wonderful, inescapable threads that bind sisters across time, place and lies, and does so with poise, grace and breathtaking prose. A beautiful, important and timely book -- Ella Walker - Scotsman

A bold, skilful storyteller . . . a novel that deftly rehearses the history of prejudice and suffering leading up to the present moment. It's a clever balancing act indeed to pair such heartbreaking material with a narrative that's so much fun -- Claire Lowdon - Sunday Times

An entirely mesmerising novel - Psychologies

Fascinating and beautifully written - Good Housekeeping

A thought-provoking read - Woman & Home

Bennett is a gifted storyteller. This generous, humane novel has many merits, not least its engrossing plot and richly detailed settings -- Michael Donkor - Guardian

The Vanishing Half is one of this year's most anticipated books . . . Sweeping and ambitious . . . Combining an addictive story (it's perfect for book clubs ) with serious questions of racism, social expectations, lies, love and compassion - this is an unforgettable read - Stylist

This ticks all the boxes for me - enticing plot, memorable characters, all wrapped up in beautiful writing . . . an astounding book -- Nina Pottell - Prima

Stunning . . . seamless and suspenseful . . . engrossing and surprisingly apolitical . . . The result is a novel that reads effortlessly . . . There is tremendous, timeless wisdom here -- AV Club A lyrical mediation on identity, race and gender. Bennett explores the selves we choose to be, as well as the selves we have imposed on us with great empathy and precision. The Vanishing Half is a gorgeous, generous novel and written with true heart -- Elizabeth Day A novel about motherhood and race, incredibly clever and interrogates race with nuance . . . Compulsively readable . . . An incredible talent . . . a book to look forward to - The High Low podcast

The Vanishing Half is an immersive story about family, identity and belonging - Red

Bennett's mesmerising gem is a masterclass of moving storytelling. The Vanishing Half is also a thought provoking assessment of race and social politics in post-war America .. . The powerful plot twists will keep you gripped until the end - Independent

A powerful, tender family epic which reminds us directly and poignantly that things are not black and white - Louisa Young

Brit Bennett is a tremendous talent - Imbolo Mbue

The Vanishing Half does exactly what a great novel is meant to do. It fills you with questions, exposes you to realities you may never have thought of and of course keeps you up into the night reading. The characters in this book are so real, so warm and so very complicated. I loved every part of it, even when it was making me sad or angry. It's just such a beautiful story -- Luan Goldie The detail and the feeling showcased in every sentence Brit Bennett writes is breathtaking. The Vanishing Half is a novel that shows just how human emotion, uncertainty and longing can be captured and put on paper - Candice Carty-Williams

Superb. A gorgeously immersive novel. It deftly explores the dichotomies of twinship, passing and class in America - Irenosen Okojie

An impressive and arresting novel. Perceptive in its insights and poised in execution, this is an important, timely examination of the impact of race on personality, experience and relationships - Diana Evans

A potent, generous, and masterful novel. Bennett is a humane and supple story-teller we are lucky to have - Olivia Sudjic

The Vanishing Half should mark the induction of Brit Bennett into the small group of likely successors to Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen. I read it torn between competing urges: I wanted to greedily turn the pages, yet I also wanted to savour every word, lingering as long as I could with the delicious feeling of being sunk so deep into the story that every time I set the book aside it felt like coming up for air. Compelling, compassionate and astonishingly good - Sara Collins

A novel of immense, shining, powerful intelligence - Deborah Levy

The Vanishing Half is an utterly mesmerising novel. It seduces with its literary flair, surprises with its breath-taking plot twists, delights with its psychological insights, and challenges us to consider the corrupting consequences of racism on different communities and individual lives. I absolutely loved this book - Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize

Brit Bennett has learned a lot from Toni Morrison - the use of uncanny rural communities in the South/Midwest; twins/doppelgangers to explore the extreme edges of the American Dream; whip-smart dialogue - but her exquisite slowness and patience of tone are unique. A wonderful, cosseting read - Paul Mendez, author of Rainbow Milk

As thought-provoking as it is engrossing - Oprah magazine

Deeply compelling . . . brilliantly creates a network of characters - singular and vivid . . . There are moments . . . that stun with quiet power . . . The Vanishing Half more than succeeds as a beautifully imagined story about an American family - USA Today

Stunning . . . Bennett pulls it off brilliantly . . . Few novels manage to remain interesting from start to finish, even - maybe especially - the brilliant ones. But . . . Bennett locks readers in and never lets them go - Los Angeles Times

Bennett balances the literary demands of dynamic characterization with the historical and social realities of her subject matter. . . there is such depth, possibility and dramatic propulsion . . a brave foray into vast and difficult terrain. . . .The novel raises thorny questions about the cost of blackness. The answers are complicated - New York Times Book Review

Bennett's gorgeously written second novel, an ambitious meditation on race and identity, considers the divergent fates of twin sisters, born in the Jim Crow South, after one decides to pass for white. Bennett balances the literary demands of dynamic characterization with the historical and social realities of her subject matter - New York Times

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780349701479
Publication date: 29/04/2021
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780349701462
Publication date: 11/06/2020
Format: Hardback

View All Editions

About Brit Bennett

Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Her work is featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel. She is one of the National Book Foundation's 2016 5 Under 35 honorees.

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