RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a wild masked ball rife with gossip about the books that have preceded it ... Banville’s preoccupations with art, cosmology, the existence of ancient gods, extreme violence, sex, self-knowledge and self-delusion are glimpsed through a tangle of hawthorns surrounding a lych gate or in the depths of a glass of oily gin...You need know none of this to surrender to The Singularities; indeed, you will be exempt from the distracting detective work, with its attendant self-congratulation, into which the completist will find themselves repeatedly lured ... Suffice to say that what at times seems like a synthesis of Banville’s previous novels, gesturing towards his possible retreat from fiction – he has hinted, quite unconvincingly, that this might be his last novel – can be more productively viewed as a lark, a playful interrogation of the peculiar and suggestive world he has been busily creating for the past half century ... Amid all this architecture, however, these overlapping circles described in stylised sentences, there is so much else, hiding in plain sight ... Banville, in following them through these dizzyingly reflective moods and milieux, has constructed a compelling underworld to run alongside our own.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Is she convincing? Up to a point. These ways of thinking about Christie are not entirely new or unfamiliar, and although Worsley has evidently done due diligence among her subject’s correspondence and personal records, there are no major revelations. It’s more, perhaps, that she brings a clear-eyed empathy that allows her to acknowledge Christie’s limitations and prejudices without consigning her to the silos of mass-market populist and absentee mother ... Sometimes, this is a stretch. Worsley is correct to argue that dismissing the books as formulaic – algebraic, indeed – is a way of diminishing Christie’s power to graft an apparently impenetrable mystery on to an evocatively imagined and interestingly peopled setting, and to repeat the trick over and over again; such reductive ways of characterising the work of popular writers are still very much in evidence. Her gift for dialogue and for manipulating social stereotypes, as Worsley demonstrates, was formidable, keenly attuned to the proliferating class anxieties of the 20th century...This doesn’t quite amount to the claims made in one eyebrow-raising passage in the biography, in which Worsley appears to argue that Christie has common ground with the modernists whose defining moment came as her first novels were published ... does, however, paint an intriguing picture of Christie as an upper-middle-class Victorian and Edwardian child whose life, then and later, encompassed significant losses and reversals of fortune, emotionally and materially. Perhaps counterintuitively, Worsley’s plummy-chummy tone bolsters rather than detracts from the seriousness with which she has evidently taken her task, as if she’s attempting to translate the sensibilities of a bygone era and mindset to contemporary life ... Where Worsley excels is in her descriptions of Christie’s day-to-day life; we hear virtually nothing of her political opinions as she lives through two world wars, for example, but we do glean a sense of her exceptionalism in the news that she consistently ignored air-raid sirens and simply turned over in bed. And she reports Christie’s almost compulsive buying of properties, her quiet, near-clandestine funding of her second husband’s archeological career and her love of rich food in a way that allows us to understand the version of home, love and stability she was trying to recreate. This may be the first biography I’ve read where my attention was genuinely piqued by the discussion of the subject’s tax affairs. Has Lucy Worsley tracked down Agatha Christie? Not quite, but her nose for diverting byways may suffice.
A. M. Homes
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)A frantic and surreal exploration of the embryonic days of the MAGA movement ... The Unfolding is a novel about how trauma and its repression will wreak havoc when it inevitably returns ... Homes is a funny, funny writer.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... vivid ... The concise novel that follows, a blend of survival story, an elaboration of a tense psychological triangle and an exploration of charisma and hubris, tells the story of the three men’s first few months as castaways ... Every arduous gain they make is minutely detailed, their sporadic triumphs always feeling inadequate to the challenge of their inhospitable surroundings ... It is, however, the dynamics of this tiny, ill-assorted trio that really fascinate us, and they provide scope for an understated commentary on the complex dangers of religious hierarchy ... The close third-person narration allows Donoghue to shift between the characters to particularly moving effect.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It is in the exploration of these areas, the hinterland beyond the shock headline, that The Men really intrigues and disturbs. Indeed, once both characters and readers have absorbed the mass disappearances and their immediate effects – the collapse of industries and utilities chiefly run by men, and the ensuing plane crashes, power outages and lack of policing; the vast reduction in sexual violence and assault, and the “sweet clamour of voices in the air” when those voices belong only to women and girls – it is the less immediately obvious fallout that dominates ... it seems too literal to read the book as a simple equation in which the existence of men equals the death of hope for the future, even as one might also argue that the stark set-up makes such a conclusion tricky to avoid. The Men is a confusing novel, full of fraught ideas and jangling emotions, and a prose style that veers from affectlessness and distance to attempts to capture vulnerability ... At its strongest, however, it is an exploration of attachment, its lure and its peril, and the impossibility of its eradication from human affairs.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Batuman’s success in Either/Or is how thoroughly she exploits the gap between Selin’s scepticism about the creation and the consequences of literature and her narrator’s wonderfully idiosyncratic comic voice ... Her story has much in common with the picaresque; episodic in structure, filled with acquaintances, misadventures and strangers whose motives are questionable, it is meandering rather than propulsive ... Either/Or does not exactly conclude; rather, a third volume seems almost inevitable.
Karen Joy Fowler
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Booth is immensely enjoyable and often exceptionally poignant, especially through its characterisation of the unmarried, dutiful sister Rosalie and her brother Edwin, who himself became a renowned actor. John, from his early days as one of the Baltimore Bully Boys to his self-pitying, petulant rants at his more successful peers, is glimpsed largely elliptically, through the concerns his loving family have for him and, finally, through their deep distress at his fate. It’s an approach that ably demonstrates that if you set aside the urge to solve a puzzle, you’ll come up with far more interesting questions.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... intricately assembled themes and intensely anxious preoccupations ... There are few surface resemblances between A Little Life, Yanagihara’s Booker-shortlisted second novel, and To Paradise, but in both she is deeply, compulsively interested in characters for whom the world seems unattainable, whose histories and temperaments coalesce to render them marginal, held back ... each section conjures a vivid, often startlingly reconfigured America ... In some ways, this is a work whose fascination with entropy – the breakdown of societies, of property, of the body – makes its job almost impossibly hard; we feel as though we are standing in the centre of ever-decreasing circles ... The novel’s title invokes a feeling of expectant adventuring, of happiness waiting somewhere; what, perhaps, nation-builders might feel just as strongly as individuals at the beginning of their lives. Where the suffering and hopelessness of A Little Life created an overwhelming experience that left readers divided around the issue of how much they could take, this is a far subtler delineation of those who feel hamstrung, beleaguered, inadequate to the task ahead. In many ways – not least the questions of political and social responsibility it poses, especially in the face of global catastrophe – it is a darker work, and yet a more fruitfully puzzling, multifaceted one. And behind this impressive, significant novel stands the question: what is a life, if it is not lived in freedom?
John Le Carré
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)It is easy and tempting to see constant farewells in a posthumously published novel, written at the very end of an author’s long life. But Silverview is so comprehensively suffused with the sense of a world on the edge of disappearing that this hardly seems fanciful ... Julian is John le Carré’s final ingenu ... his remaining innocence gradually stripped away by a surrounding cast so very much more in the know than he is, though what they know is frequently withheld or obscured. The overall effect is of a flickering unreality ... Silverview is, perhaps inevitably, slighter than le Carré’s greatest work; details are sketched, back-stories are conveyed through rapid bursts of indirect speech. There is a rather enjoyable sense of self- referential cliché.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Incuriosity is not one of David Sedaris’s flaws, and in this second tranche of his diaries, his appetite for observing the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of his fellow humans is deliciously rampant ... there is no sense that he is becoming jaded ... To read these entries – some of the more boring ones omitted, Sedaris explains in his introduction, but otherwise free of retroactive editing – is to become complicit in a high-wire act: appreciating his appreciation of weirdness and recognising it for the voyeurism it sometimes is, balancing his enthralment to observation with his more active poking of the hornet’s nest, his amused indulgence with something a little less benign. Therein, of course, lies Sedaris’s edge; a flâneur in Comme des Garçons who doesn’t so much cross the line as vault it in search of another one ... Unsurprisingly, Sedaris hits this minor key most movingly when he is writing about his family ... grumpy, bitchy, sympathetic, sad and welcoming all at once.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)There is a hint of the Shakespearean bed trick about the plot that unfolds, although it is only lightly sketched, as with much else in the novel ... There is a scrupulous subtlety about that way that Sahota refuses to let his historical characters act as though they are in a historical novel ... rather than feeling confined by whatever real-life elements informed its creation, [China Room exists in a far more indeterminate, diffuse dimension, at times taking on an almost fairytale quality. In his three novels, Sahota has demonstrated an ambitious need to adapt the specific and concrete to something less easy to pin down, complete with all the gaps and ruptures that life provides and art makes, even for a moment, tangible.
Natalia Ginzburg trans. by D. M. Low
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Ginzburg’s narrative proceeds by pen portrait and vignette, elucidating how its cast of characters are both connected and also, whether as a result of external forces or by personal inclination, or both, isolated ... over all hangs an atmosphere of nostalgia, not in its comforting or corny sense, but as a form of homesickness for the past, and for the vanishing possibilities of the self ... Ginzburg’s efforts to bring those buried stories to the surface are compelling, strange and wonderful to see in their English version.
RaveThe New Statesman (UK)Even after forty years it is hard to see exactly what Mars-Jones is doing with his writing – there is a certain lack of shape or direction to his authorial identity – but one distinctive feature we have come to expect is the verbal flourish, often at someone’s expense. Another Mars-Jones signature is his remarkable, almost terrifying, fluency when speaking, which has its written analogue in his preference for undivided slabs of prose ... Certainly, Mars-Jones finds much uplift in his potentially hellish tale. Colin’s descriptions of his own worthlessness are Eeyore-ish sighs rather than serious claims on our pity ... The 1970s – clothes, furnishings, technology – are evoked accurately enough to prompt the warm blush of horrified nostalgia. Mars-Jones is very good company, often making us laugh...but there is something unnerving, as always, about the relationship between this author and his reader ... Gradually, as we read the many descriptions of Ray’s dominant behaviour, a feeling of recognition takes hold. The theatrical demonstration of control – no breaks, no chapters, no identifiable narrative \'map\', a relentless fluency – may be an embrace of technical experimentation, but it also feels like a provocation, or perhaps a test. It may also be being offered as an opportunity for growth, an instructive knock to our complacency? Roland Barthes insisted that there was an erotics of reading and of writing. You may prefer to be seduced by your authors, more or less conventionally. But it is worth considering whether the relationship, as exposed by Mars-Jones in Box Hill, isn’t a little more sadomasochistic than we’d like to admit. Or is that just Adam Mars-Jones?
PositiveThe SpectatorTyler’s skill is to make sure that readers can see [the protagonist\'s] point while simultaneously cringing at his tin ear ... a noticeably compact novel, studded with miniature portraits of other lives. Each of them bears Tyler’s characteristic empathy and brilliance at capturing something essential in only a few brush strokes ... the kind of plot twist that starts unlikely-buddy and stand-in parent-figure films, and there’s a kind of austerity to the way Tyler resists the temptation, sticking to the novel’s logic ... Tyler doesn’t cheat, and the result is that her writing here can feel truthful and moving but also slightly underpowered. Still, her novels are always absorbing, and her emotional generosity—the way she reveals in tiny flashes the extent to which we really know what we’re attempting to hide from ourselves—is never less than impressive. And at the present time, a book that weighs our ability to insulate and isolate ourselves against disaster alongside the endurance of small kindnesses is not a bad one to have to hand.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... sound[s] as though it is a meditation on romantic loss and a sketch of the accommodations one makes in its absence. In a way it is; but it also delves far more deeply into the instability of identity. It evokes a precariousness that flits between the physical, the mental and the linguistic – specifically, the narrator’s identity as a woman ... Reading Strange Hotel is indeed a matter of strange immersion, and one that will often puzzle and sometimes frustrate the reader, but its portrait of sadness and alienation is, in the end, also strangely revivifying.
MixedThe Times (UK)At times, working out the precise links between them is tough going; Morrison’s trademark poetic prose, rhythmic and sensuous but frequently opaque, slides off the soap-opera situations she describes without giving the reader much of a clue as to what is really going on ... This level of complication is often a distraction ... It is a story told with Morrison’s characteristic meandering, full of flashbacks and time shifts, jumps in point of view and lyrical descriptions that edge, on occasion, uncomfortably close to purpleness ... One of the side effects of the narrative’s hectic tone is that Morrison’s other themes, such as May’s slide into paranoia as the civil unrest associated with desegregation increases, seem oddly out of place, especially when the author slips in capsule history lessons in a factual and radically different manner ... Morrison’s ability to portray the insinuating and corrosive nature of betrayal is impressive ... That men are deceivers ever is too slender a moral to support the weight of what is at times an affecting and absorbing novel, but one that ultimately falls short of its author’s undoubtedly powerful capacity for telling tales.
PositiveNew Statesman (UK)What ails these women, and what might help them? Flattery’s scenarios are so frequently fractured and quasi-dystopic that it’s hard to make a diagnosis; you might as well attempt to impose logic on a particularly lurid and melodramatic dream. And yet, as with the insistently recurrent patterns of the dream world, there is a logic, one that the reader can gradually discern as the warped narratives bloom and settle. During that process, the author’s ear for a sharp one-liner and a snappy encapsulation is evident ... Some of these pieces reminded me a lot of Deborah Levy, and particularly her earlier stories: brutal, disorientating, filled with appetite, anger and characters who seem to spring from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Their milieux are both provisional—an entropic world, halfway houses, temporary caravans—and intimately tied to political and social structures. It is a bold beginning, and one that you can only hope Flattery finds continuingly productive.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a rallying cry for activism that argues for the connectedness of societies and their peoples ... also an argument for the power of disgust ... Atwood’s task in returning to the world of her best-known work was a big one, but the result is a success that more than justifies her Booker prize shortlisting.
PositiveThe GuardianMost of the pieces are book reviews, and all but three were written for the LRB; only occasionally does Wilmers venture into strictly personal territory, most notably in a zinging delve into the menopause ... What’s most striking about Human Relations, though, is how much Wilmers has to say about women, and often women of a particular kind: what we’d now call the dysfunctional ... Wilmers is harsh but, one suspects, fair.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Everything that O’Brien does memorably throughout her novels, she does here. There is the blend of economy and lyricism, vignettes tumbling over one another to disorient and energise the reader. There is the intense focus on the emotional lives of women on the sharp end of mental and physical incarceration or constraint, broadening out to sketch in the patriarchal and theocratic structures that hold them there. And there is the constant presence of bodily sensation and distress ... Were she simply to be claiming a right to write about what she wanted, she might well run into trouble. But there is an urgency in this novel, as in others preceding it, that indicates her subject matter is not a matter of writerly vanity—a wish to display versatility and range—so much as one of compulsion and duty. By the end of Girl, the reader feels assaulted by the horrors contained within it, but that, in a sense, is easy; the more important question is whether one can feel one’s empathy and understanding to have been enlarged. Here, once again, O’Brien pulls off that enormously difficult conjuring trick.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Gun Island brims with implausibility; outlandish coincidences and chance meetings blend with ancient myth and folklore, tales of heroism and the supernatural set in a contemporary world disrupted by the constant migrations of humans and animals ... Gun Island...is keen to play with its own ridiculousness; as Deen and the professor slowly disinter the likely origins of the novel’s founding myth, their grandiose speculations often call to mind the satirical portrayal of the academic world that one might find in a David Lodge novel. Turn the page, though, and a king cobra is about to strike, or a block of masonry to fall from a building and narrowly miss one or other of our principals. If Gun Island can at times feel a touch breathless...then its underpinning is solid. Amid the freak cyclones and oxygen-starved waters comes the story – or stories – of migration across the ages; tales of escapology, of deprivation and persecution, of impossible yearnings for a new world that bring us, inexorably, to the terrified refugees on the Mediterranean. Which is, perhaps, Ghosh’s essential point; a shaggy dog story can take a very roundabout path towards reality, but it will get there in the end. It has to, or we’re all doomed.
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
PositiveThe GuardianOgawa exploits the psychological complexity of this bizarre situation to impressive effect, overlaying its natural tension with sexual ambiguity and a sense that the lines between safety and captivity are being blurred ... A work of fiction that sets itself such stringent boundaries and problems of internal logic (if the inhabitants of the island have their concepts of items entirely wiped from their sensibilities, how are they able to name them? How does a milliner know what he once was when hats have disappeared?) must eventually reach a reckoning. Ogawa brings hers about in a deeply unsettling fashion, plunging her imaginary world into entropy and post-apocalyptic decay. There are obviously parallels between the society she describes and those similarly intolerant of collective memory and will, but her achievement is to weave in a far more personal sense of the destruction and distortion of the psyche.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)This bitterly funny observation of the terror and humiliations of falling in love in old age shows Jacobson on fine form ... Live a Little is a meander of a novel that nonetheless feels urgent – not least because one fears either of its two central characters might keel over at any point. But for all its moments of bleakness, and the occasional flicker of genuine terror, it’s rarely less than bitterly funny in its determination to face up to the obliteration that awaits us all.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement...in the writing of literature... wishy-washiness is ostensibly tolerated, but covertly deplored: this is the road that leads to books being called \'quiet\'. If you are Jonathan Coe, whose eleven novels have been peopled with protagonists caught between desire and passivity, uncertain not merely of the mark they wish to make on history but of the nature of that history, who are beguiled by the past just as they seek to free themselves from it, this is a problem ... As the Olympic viewers take from Boyle’s spectacle what accords most closely with their interests – its intertextuality and its references to Humphrey Jennings for the academics, the bits of Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield for the old heads, James Bond for everyone else – Coe subtly reinforces one of Middle England’s key questions: what is it that binds us? And is it enough?Once again, equivocation emerges. We can never believe that Coe is endorsing the rage that a handful of his characters nurture against the rise of \'political correctness\', but we are certainly invited to understand it.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)If the novel is primarily concerned with transgenerational trauma, the outcomes it suggests are necessarily provisional and partial; the past cannot be altered, simply accommodated. But the specifics of how we address its physical remains – those objects that we imbue with the uncanny and as communicants of the lives of the dead – is a matter for individual reckonings; whether to enshrine them or to treat them as mere accessories to the great human drama is an uneasy and often painful area. Cander’s novel, although it falls occasionally between starkness and sentimentality, is an interesting exploration of an abiding dilemma.
Leila Slimani Trans. by Sam Taylor
MixedThe Guardian\"Slimani’s slender, elegantly written and translated novel is filled with such disturbing images, and her capacity to shock will come as little surprise to readers of her previous novel ... But there is nothing that might add up to a thesis; explicit in so many ways, Slimani’s writing... is coy about any greater ambitions it might have. Instead, it reads as if more interested in exploring the possibilities of extremes and reclaiming their potential as literary devices beyond that of mere shock-creation ... Adèle is a tough read, but a bracing one; little concerned with reader-pleasing narrative treats, but provocatively enigmatic.\
PositiveThe GuardianFuller is impressive on physical detail, even when her story becomes a little crowded with subplot (a mysterious pregnancy, hints of the supernatural, sexual dysfunction, a hidden treasure trove and even the Beatles in Dublin all make appearances). Her description of Frances processing down a rickety spiral staircase for her first dinner with Peter and Cara, rigged out in her mother’s appallingly unyielding foundation garments and what sounds like a full-on ballgown, is agonisingly well realized ... She also has a talent for the sinister ... In some respects, the pudding can feel overegged; although not unexplored territory, the relationship of a single woman to a couple whom she idealizes and feels drawn to as a unit, rather than as two individuals, is rich enough to make additional devices and embellishment unnecessary ... These are small caveats, for Fuller is an accomplished and serious writer who has the ability to implant interesting psychological dimensions into plotty, pacy narratives.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken
RaveThe GuardianIf The End doesn’t provide the answers, it provides additional context for the questions ... Knausgaard’s rendering of this crisis [over the publication of My Struggle]—the jitteriness, the relentlessness with which he goes over events again and again, his overwhelming sense of transgression and shame—is riveting. He is willing to expose not only his visceral fear, but the almost gauche lack of forethought he has given the matter of publication ... There is, however, a far more substantial digression on the horizon, as Knausgaard plunges into more than 400 pages that, by way of an analysis of the work of the poet Paul Celan, narrates Hitler’s formative years ... It is a departure at once strikingly bold and utterly bizarre. Occasionally, it is also breathtakingly banal ... Throughout the series, the issue of Min Kamp/Mein Kampf has hovered disquietingly, but now it emerges more fully as an expression of fear: what if Knausgaard too is a monstrous narcissist, a fanatic, a man capable of crossing a line without, perhaps, even realizing it? The End is a kind of reckoning with that terror, both on a practical level—writing into the story the consequences of publication, from legal maneuverings to his wife’s depression—and a more amorphous one. How do you know, Knausgaard asks, what damage has been done to you, and what damage you are doing?
RaveThe Guardian...although her version of real-life events is frequently fantastical and defiantly romantic, the playfulness of artistic licence doesn\'t lead to a novel as light-hearted as its setup suggests ... As overtures to novels go, this one is pretty electrifying ... Like that of her heroine, Patchett\'s great talent in Bel Canto is one of range. With bravura confidence and inventiveness she varies her pace to encompass both lightning flashes of brutality and terror and long stretches of incarcerated ennui. The novel\'s sensibilities extend from the sly wit of observational humour to subtle, mournful insights into the nature of yearning and desire. Like the blueprint of operatic performance that she has imported, Patchett slides from strutting camp to high tragedy, minute social comedy to sublime romanticism ... Patchett\'s stereotypical foreigners evoke humour rather than glibness ... If the bathetic conclusion of the epilogue disappoints, it is unsurprising but nonetheless lamentable. The house\'s bemused inmates are not alone in hoping that the spell would never end.
PositiveThe SpectatorIt takes guts, after all, to spin a yarn out of a rich Upper East Side orphan who decides to put herself to sleep for a year in an attempt at rebirth ... Above all, Ottessa Moshfegh is a merciless comedian of vanity and frailty.
RaveThe GuardianThis modernist narrative is best approached with a commitment to playfulness rather than a determination to hold all its strands close, and Self’s achievement is to make it intensely funny and humane. The book’s cerebral qualities are buttressed by his great skills as an observer and flaneur ... Here, too, alongside the dead ends, the provisional tales and the fallen away characters, are some of the great stories: of damage handed on, generation to generation; of fading parents and vengeful children; of subterfuge and deception as necessary conditions of desire. And, of course, of death, which makes its most straightforward appearance in Phone’s closing lines, though it has been there all along.
RaveThe GuardianOne of the occasional failures of the kind of contemporary fiction based on the dynamics and currents of social and domestic relationships is that the characters, figuratively speaking, all sound the same ... Sittenfeld’s tableaux and their inhabitants don’t feel like that: they are much less tidy and, consequently, riskier. They explore what are frequently unresolvable tensions, especially between women ... Alongside this knotty subject matter are more straightforwardly light moments ... Despite its foreboding title – \'Bad Latch\' – it’s a story fuelled by the acceptance of imperfection and, tellingly, it ends with one woman telling another her name.
PositiveThe Guardian...an immensely readable novel, packed with ideas and emotion ... Jones neither elaborates on the circumstances of the assault, nor the subsequent trial; the reader is simply given to understand that a black man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, will find retribution meted out swiftly and unquestioningly ...Jones’s cleverness is to leave this monolithic fact to function as a sinkhole at the centre of the novel; a fundamental instability that threatens everything around it, irrespective of the state of play before it opens up ... It’s the complex individuality of all the novel’s characters that allows it to become much more than its simple storyline suggests...it brings to life two distinct worlds...
RaveThe GuardianMunro deals in people whose fates have slowly worked themselves out over decades, and whose situations are richly complex and hedged about by history; if a writer must grab their stories out of air, then the resulting snapshots must be understood to be provisional … Throughout a collection peopled with escape artists and stay-at-homes, romancers and romanced, comes Munro's exceptional gift for undercutting her own conjuring tricks, as her characters, pinned to the mast of coincidence and invention, wriggle free and prove themselves ungovernable.
Michel Houellebecq, Trans. by Frank Wynne
PositiveThe GuardianTo describe Michel Houellebecq's extraordinary novel as nihilistic would be a grave understatement. On its publication in France as Les Particules Elémentaires, it shot up the bestseller charts while provoking outrage for its strands of homophobia, racism and misogyny, not to mention explicit and frequently voyeuristic sex and violence … This is an anti-novel in the sense that it consistently diminishes any sense of its own possibilities. It lurches from misanthropic farce to dissociated tragedy, from philosophical speculation to sarcastic sideswipes at the luminaries of recent French thought … Much of Houellebecq's barely concealed rage is directed towards the incapacity of those in the ivory towers to deal with the big questions: religion, sex and death.
PositiveThe Guardian[Mary] tells the reader her story: the ambivalence, bordering on dislike, she feels for her son's followers, whom she describes as misfits, ‘fools, twitchers, malcontents, stammerers’; the estrangement she feels when he sheds his boyhood identity and becomes someone else, ‘his voice all false, and his tone all stilted’ … The book's climax comes, of course, with the crucifixion. Here, Mary gives full rein not only to her love for her son but to her understanding of the limits of their bond; "the pain was his and not mine", she says, unburdening herself of a final moment of weakness that her visitors would rather not hear. ‘The truth should be spoken at least once in the world.’ That truth, as Tóibín imagines it in this fearsomely strange, deeply thoughtful book, is far more subversive than it might at first seem.
RaveThe Guardian...[a] complex and witty fable ... Rushdie has rarely had much time for the untwisted realist narrative, and here too he puts his story through contortions. He is not telling us the Goldens’ story, René is, and René is not so much telling it as using it as material for a screenplay. Scenes are suddenly presented or recast as fragments of script, a peremptory 'Cut' or 'Dissolve' indicating that it’s time to move on; and films haunt the novel like antic ghosts, chief among them, unsurprisingly, The Godfather. In such times as ours, the fabular and mythic may provide more opportunities than the contemporary everyday; and certainly novelists such as Colm Tóibín and Kamila Shamsie have recently turned to the ancient world to find touchstones for new work. Rushdie has always been an impish myth-manipulator, refusing to accept, as in this novel, that the lives of the emperors can’t be blended with film noir, popular culture and crime caper. On the evidence of The Golden House, he is quite right.
MixedThe GuardianMargaret Atwood again demonstrates that she has mastered the art of creating dense, complex fictions from carefully layered narratives … Where Atwood succeeds, and succeeds magnificently, is in the evocation of childhood...Here it is invested with all the drama and intensity of a gothic horror story, as we spy on Iris and Laura in Avilion, their monstrous Victorian castle of a home … But as the present-day Iris continues with her tale, it mutates into all-out melodrama, complete with a pair of grotesque villains … What we have, at the end, is a mystery story whose chief character is absent. If Atwood hasn't quite managed to pull off this vanishing act, it is largely because her particular brand of fictional magic- making relies on stealth and invisibility; and in this novel we get a little too close to seeing how the trick is performed.
RaveThe GuardianIn a world of surface, deeply felt sympathy is hard to come by and hard to put much faith in. Marina, Danielle and Julius [are] the characters at the centre of Claire Messud's deceptively enjoyable novel, deceptive in that her light, narrative touch and skill at stockpiling quirky, telling events make it initially hard to accept that she has a larger, darker purpose … To imply that The Emperor's Children succeeds only through its satirical energies would be to downplay Messud's talents as a miniaturist; she is as much interested in her characters' inner lives as she is in writing social comedy.
RaveThe GuardianSaunders conjures a breathtakingly agile narrative, a polyphony (and occasional cacophony) of the voices of the dead that surround Willie ... his book is also profoundly worldly, committed to the accurate presentation of each voice, its particular context, its variations and sensibilities ... his revivification of Lincoln dramatises not only a general sense of the conflict between private and public selves, duty and inclination, doubt and resolve, but a very specifically American one. Lincoln in the Bardo was clearly conceived before the present circumstances, but it is nonetheless inflected with the tensions between the individual and the commonwealth that characterise the American psyche ... His first novel is a brilliant, exhausting, emotionally involving attempt to get up again, to fight for empathy, kindness and self-sacrifice, and to resist.
RaveThe GuardianBut Barry’s business extends beyond intense and visceral description, though that persists through a narrative that eventually encompasses the American civil war as well as increasingly complex interactions with indigenous communities. It also captures the development of Thomas and John’s relationship, the men’s sexual attraction to one another announced early in the novel by the simple, paragraph-long sentence: 'And then we quietly fucked and then we slept.' What makes this strand of storyline unexpected is that it ushers in an exploration of gender fluidity and a redefinition of family that seems to scream anachronism but is nonetheless convincing ... In the years immediately before the civil war, America is shown as a country defined by lawlessness, ambition and plasticity; afterwards, it seems more hopelessly fractured, haunted by what has befallen it ... Days Without End is a work of staggering openness; its startlingly beautiful sentences are so capacious that they are hard to leave behind, its narrative so propulsive that you must move on. In its pages, Barry conjures a world in miniature, inward, quiet, sacred; and a world of spaces and borders so distant they can barely be imagined.
Jonathan Safran Foer
PositiveThe GuardianHere I Am is a series of looping, repetitive dialogues, monologues and furious shouting matches, a claustrophobic relay of disputatiousness and wordplay ... Here I Am is endearingly funny, its one-liners and comic hyperboles undercutting its inherent melancholy. Set pieces delight.
PositiveThe GuardianBut differing accounts of shared history are meat and drink to memoirists, and surely so universal as to be unremarkable. There has to be something else going on for us to want to read further. So what is Spiegelman’s point? In an extremely mazy, meandering narrative, in which reaches into the past often seem tenuous, the answer is surely not in establishing the literal truth. Rather, her subject appears to be the impossibility of feeling anger towards one’s mother, and the extent to which to do so would require a belief in potential change. Is it better, though, to accept that love and anger can co-exist; and that, particularly in mother-daughter relationships, such dynamics and dramas are frequently played out in the body, in attitudes towards lovers, food, appearance? Nadja cannot answer these questions definitively – who could? – but she can pose them arrestingly and illuminatingly.
RaveThe GuardianThe nine stories in Mark Haddon’s debut collection are exuberant, lusty exercises in juxtaposition: intimacy and estrangement, exoticism and domesticity, innocuousness and malevolence, the cataloguing of minute detail and the expansiveness of the zoomed-out lens ... But nowhere do all these themes come together more brilliantly than in the collection’s centrepiece, 'Wodwo', a story that extends to more than 60 pages and earns every one of them.
PositiveThe GuardianIt would be unfair to accuse the novel of being a victim of its research because Proulx engages with what she knows on more visceral terms than a writer who has simply alighted on an interesting subject. The pacing of her narrative, with each generation reflecting the further depredations of man against nature, its impact on the indigenous population and the twists and turns of colonial power, delivers a slowly gathering power, accented with the dread of irrevocable change ... [The] slippage of present into past is fiendishly hard to pull off, requiring an incredibly delicately calibrated manipulation of the reader’s empathy. Weaving in commentary on the ramifications of vast historical power struggles and changes makes it even more difficult – and it is clear that Proulx is profoundly committed to the novel’s ecological message; put simply, that a cavalier and rapacious treatment of the earth, and of the people who are most closely attuned to its needs and stewardship, is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. But that can make for didactic reading.
PositiveThe GuardianThe strength of The Girls lies in Cline’s ability to evoke both the textures and atmosphere of those painful in-between times; the desperate rush to fill an emotional vacuum ... The Girls is far from a perfect novel: its mirroring of the trajectory of the Family’s activities is somewhat constricting, and unnecessary; a secondary line, in which we meet Evie in middle age, is affecting, but not quite substantial enough. But she is a powerful interpreter of ambiguous emotional vectors, and the catastrophic directions in which they can lead.
PositiveThe GuardianBerne has created an intriguing portrait of the kind of loneliness that can only exist in a crowd, and given the lie to all those surveys that suggest a place or its community can be summed up by its house prices, crime statistics and performance indicators.
PositiveThe GuardianAt a crudely superficial level, everyone in The Mare behaves true to type; it is in its more subterranean depths that the mystery of attachment begins to show itself. Gaitskill is a writer who situates herself in a version of reality, and then studs it with the portents and symbols of the unconscious ... while The Mare is not perfect – sustaining a child’s voice is near-impossible, and the book’s adherence to an unfolding temporal narrative means that it lapses into episodic repetitiveness – it is bold, dramatic and deeply unsettling.
MixedThe GuardianAll this is good fun, if incredibly meandering; Irving has packed so much detail in, and so blurred the lines between what we need to remember and what we don’t, that he seems often not to be sure himself, repeating factual bits and bobs over and over again just in case.
Elena Ferrante, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveThe GuardianFerrante has moved into more overtly psychological territory. A portrait of the dynamic of a friendship has mutated into a weightier, more uncanny exploration of the antipathy of love, of our compulsion to create one another, over and over again.