the repercussions if her lifelong lies are revealed. It’s only when Jude, Desiree’s dark-skinned daughter, meets Stella’s white- passing daughter Kennedy and slowly puts two-and-two together that the webs start to become unstuck, and the uncomfortable truths start to out. “A long-lost relative – you’d have something in common, wouldn’t you?,” Jude wonders. “Maybe you couldn’t spot it at first but in time, you’d feel, somehow, your shared blood. But the longer [Jude] spent around Kennedy, the more foreign the girl seemed.” The spoilt Kennedy has pursued a career as an actor, playing parts where – as she says herself – “you only show people what you want to”. Her choice of profession is another moment to consider reality and performance within our everyday lives – as Kennedy ponders: it’s “strange that the greatest compliment an actress could receive was that she had disappeared into somebody else. Acting is not about being seen, a drama teacher told her once. True acting meant becoming invisible so that only the character shone through”. Yet one’s character is of no interest to the cruel ‘colourstruck’ (as Desiree calls it) community their mothers were raised in: can they ever escape the impact of the racist beliefs that founded their town? Several times in the book it’s mentioned that Mallard doesn’t appear on maps, and “A novel about sisters and the unbreakable connections between those who know each other best”
towards the end of the novel it vanishes completely, swallowed up by suburbs. But its heavy hand remains on all the characters’ shoulders throughout the book. “A place was not solid,” Early Jones thinks at one point. “A town was jelly, forever moulding around your memories.” But whether those memories can ever truly be trusted or not is another question constantly raised by the book, as the sands shift around the characters’ feet and we see the same tropes, the same challenges, play out in both the sisters’ and the daughters’ lives. This is the perfect story for these uncertain times: sat at home, isolated, without people to interact with and reflect our projected selves, reading The Vanishing Half may prompt deeper questions about one’s true values and identities. Who are we, really? What makes us who we are? Can we, as the younger Desiree hopes, “flick away history like shrugging a hand off your shoulder” – or are we indelibly marked by where we come from? If you can find a copy of this book, buy one – it wholly deserves its wild success.
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