WOW. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I’ve actually been annoyed at myself for reading so quickly because I didn’t want it to end.
Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half did not disappoint!
There was heavy marketing in Waterstones and one of the girls working there said she thoroughly enjoyed it. Damn Marketing – did a good job.
Bennett balances themes of race, identity, romance and social class with a perfect telling of the story of the Vinges twin sisters ‘who pass off as white’ who run away from their home in the small ‘village’ of Mallard as teenagers – so small it isn’t classed as a village on a map. Wayward twin Desiree pines for more than cleaning and working at the local diner Lou’s, encouraging sensible sister Stella to come with her, as they make their way to New Orleans leaving no note for their mother or anyone.
Fast forward a few years later, Desiree suddenly turns up back in Mallard with her daughter – but the locals are shocked to see she has a daughter in tow, Jude, as they struggle to believe they are related as she is black. I love how Bennett delicately approaches the subject of race, along with secrets of why she has come back and not Stella. But wait up, all is revealed soon enough.
She continues to balance the story with intrigue, a little fear and love as ‘hunter’ Early is sent to come find her, as we find out she has run away from her abusive husband, yet she grows an attachment to her hunter – will Early still go through with his assignment?
Soon enough, we learn why one half vanished, as Bennett introduces Stella’s family, addressing issues of race again, along with class, wealth, status and secrets. It appears roles have been reversed amongst the Vinges’ daughters as Stella’s girl Kennedy (who she is relieved was born white), is the tearaway teen, whilst Jude is a charming, hardworking girl who appreciates her mother and intends to become a doctor.
I also loved the telling of the daughters’ romances and how different they are: money cannot buy you everything as the cousins soon come across each other, but only after a few years. Jude meets Reese, whereas spoilt Kennedy flicks from one boy to the next along with acting jobs and a tense relationship with her mother Stella.
Instantly, you can feel the ambience and can picture the settings of America between the 60s and 80s where the novel progresses as the characters age. Understandably, all the Vinges crave some sort of completeness as they have lost one another, postulating why any character is slightly flawed, even if they don’t know it (Kennedy).
I cannot quite convey how much I loved this book without giving it away. It was quite rightly shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 and has even been commissioned to be turned into an HBO miniseries! I look forward to seeing this on the small screen, although this novel will always hold a warm piece of my heart.
Rating – 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Genre – historical, domestic fiction