I was aware of the hype around this book before I picked it up and it only grew as I was reading it. Every time I answered the question “what are you reading at the moment?”, it seemed as if the person asking had either already read or was also currently reading The Vanishing Half.
The hype is well deserved. It’s a great family saga that starts off in the fifties in a Louisiana town that prides itself on being a community of lighter-skinned African Americans. The plot centres around a pair of twin sisters, who end up living different lives on opposite sides of the divide between white and ‘coloured’.
There’s lots of that Bennett does beautifully and I admired her restraint in resolving the central plot without overdoing it. What will stay with me the most is how well she conveys the fact that identity is part active choice (or performance), part passive experience of what the world sees you as and tells you you are.
It’s yet another testament to the brilliance of the Women’s Prize, which I continue to use as a lazy but almost completely failsafe way to discover exciting new authors.