THE VANISHING HALF
It's been a long time since I've read something that's gripped quite as much as Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half. A missing girl turns up back in her hometown with child in tow. Another girl – her identical twin – is still missing. From the get-go it's a page turner.
Stella and Desiree Vignes have grown up in Mallard, a fictional town constructed entirely from one off-hand comment made by the author's mother about towns in the Deep South whose black communities have favoured lightness over generations. The twins, then sixteen, feeling stifled by their town's insularity, run away. That's when their stories diverge.
It's a detective story of sorts, clues to ways of thinking scattered all about. It touches on race, gender, identity, family. The clues don't have an agenda. There's morality but its parameters aren't fixed. The narrative edges forward incrementally in time and shifts from one person to the next with gentle fluidity and precision. It's powerful, heartbreaking, gasp-inducing. Generous and empathetic. Its plot twists and Bennett's literary flair also make it a whole lot of fun.
ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW
The tale of a family living on Wing Lee Street in Hong Kong in the 1960s, told through the eyes of eight year old Big Ears, the charmingly-eccentric youngest son.
Ma and Pa run the shoe shop, uncle is the hairdresser just down the street, and big brother Desmond is the shining light of their cash-poor, love-rich community. Big Ears wants to be an astronaut; Desmond – despite his academic and athletic prowess - longs to write pop songs; their parents want to earn enough to provide for their family. Like their mother says – life is half difficult, half wonderful.
As sentimental as a Hovis Bread ad – replete with rainbows, golden-light, fade-ins, and a folky-melodic soundtrack, this is very much a nostalgic domestic drama. But, just when you think that's all it is, something catches you. Unexpected tears well as the bad times get harder and loss threatens. The characters and situations may feel a little too pretty at times, a little too close to caricature, but there is an authenticity and luminosity that touches at the heart of true family feeling. There's enough underneath.
We've missed art and museum trips with family and friends! Together in June:
Visit Heather Phillipson's Duveen Gallery commission at Tate Britain. The spaces a sequence of 'charged ecosystems, maladaptive seasons and unearthed lifeforms'. It feels alive, otherworldly and utterly entrancing for kids and adults alike. For under-fives pick up Tate Britain's Buggy Walks leaflet on your way in for experience enhancing tips for the whole gallery.
Tumble down the rabbit hole at the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibition Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser. As surreal and psychedelic as you'd expect – mock turtle soup by Heston Blumenthal, acid colours, Vivienne Westwood – the set design is beautiful, the exhibits immersive, the history and influence of Lewis Carroll clear and enduring. On a hot day, cool off after in the inner courtyard, the centrepiece of the John Madejski Garden a magical paddling pool.
Book a place at the South London Gallery's Sunday Spot Play Space: Carnival of Play by Natalie Zervou-Kerruish. Families are invited to work together to transform six movable structures designed by the artist to create their own carnival floats. Join the end of day possession out into the gallery's beautiful Orozco Garden to showcase your finished design. Zervou-Kerruish is an artist and researcher interested in the wordless language of sculpture and movement. Her family sessions gentle, enlightening ways into art and play.