three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-DarlingCombine the Weather Underground, the Liberian Civil War, and Jane Goodall’s research with chimpanzees, and you have a brief précis of the life of Hannah Musgrave. The narrator of The Darling, Hannah moved from a radical youth through a stint at an animal research lab to marriage with Liberian official Woodrow Sundiata. Now an aging farmer in upstate New York who returned to America to search for the sons she abandoned, she describes the upheavals that have wiped away each stage of her life—and the guilt that still remains.
HarperCollins. 392 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060197358

Baltimore Sun 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Hannah offers a first person narrative so moving, so pitiless, so rare in contemporary fiction that it embodies Aristotelian catharsis: the reader is moved not only to pity, but to fear. … Banks is that rare epic novelist." Joan Mellen

Charlotte Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"[Banks’s] false notes—in occasionally creaky topical references—are few. The real achievement here is his creation of Hannah; she’s one of the few recent literary characters I expect I’ll remember, and the book itself is the most engaging one I’ve read all year." Rodney Welch

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Banks is a relentlessly compelling storyteller. … [His] exploration of international relations is no less compelling than his insight into the private bargains we make and break with those we love and abandon." Ron Charles

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In The Darling, [Banks] is working at full strength, and readers are in his debt. … In the end, you might well not love Hannah Musgrave, might even revile her, but you won’t forget her honesty and the bravery in it." Wil Haygood

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"The Darling is not a perfect book—its very expansiveness of vision and range make that almost impossible—but it is admirable, compelling, always surprising and never cliched." Mary Gordon

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Characters with grave personal defects often make the most fascinating narrators, but Musgrave frequently seems less than human, her voice serving as a delivery device for essayistic discourse." Jenny Shank

Chicago Sun-Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"… without any other character large enough to challenge Hannah’s complacencies, at the end of the book one has a draining sense that her experience has been wasted on her: making our own experience of her story a strangely debilitating venture." Roger Gathman

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Because Hannah always remains something of a representative figure, she never becomes a completely palpable individual; there remains about her the whiff of the synthetic, a sense that she is more symbol than human being. … In the end, Mr. Banks’s failure to turn Hannah into a credible individual, combined with his tendency to sanctimoniously italicize the larger meanings of her story, results in a novel that is fundamentally flawed, despite its thrumming narrative drive." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

"Darling" Hannah Musgrave had a profoundly polarizing effect on critics. Some found her idealistic drift from cause to cause compellingly believable even if contemptible; to one reviewer, Hannah’s search for self humanized what might otherwise have been a sensationalist potboiler. Many others, however, complained that her inability to care about others or learn from her mistakes rendered her an unsatisfying character. To these detractors, The Darling felt empty at its core. The fragmented plot toward the conclusion didn’t help. But readers who found Hannah a captivating heroine credited Banks, author of the 1998 epic Cloudsplitter, with a great success: that of distilling the violence of history into a nuanced portrait of a single life.