PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)For fans of Haruki Murakami, who number in the millions and who read him in more than 50 languages, this short story collection will deliver a welcome sense of déjà vu. For new readers, First Person Singular is a crash course in appreciating this author ... Most of all, though, these stories are unmistakably Murakami’s for the way they traffic in his signature themes of time and memory, nostalgia and young love. They are characterised, like so much of his writing, by the collision of everyday realism with the surreal and the sublime ... This distillation of Murakami does not always serve him perfectly. As a collection, these stories highlight the homogeneity of his technique: the narrators are indistinguishable, all speaking in his trademark casually pensive tone. The compression of the form is noticeable too. Some endings are hurried, and the stories can feel stranger, or more frivolous, without more time to acclimatise to their particular versions of reality. They make you realise the spaciousness of the novels, and how well they suit Murakami’s style...Yet each one has insights that remain with you long after they are done ... This is, as the narrator’s friend concludes, \'the kind of amazing music that no one else could write\'.
RaveThe Times (UK)... gripping, ethereal ... Although Blue Ticket will be welcomed into the canon of feminist dystopian literature, on the whole its concerns are more everyday, more domestic than that makes it sound. Its main aim isn’t to make the case for a woman’s right to choose, but to explore the mysterious inner forces that motivate her choice ... Calla is a naive narrator who struggles to understand the maternal instinct building inside her. At first this makes for prose that can feel merely atmospheric, as if pictured through a haze; the dystopia is sketched in faint lines and that parental urge, for much of the novel, is ascribed only to a vague \'dark feeling\'. Yet Mackintosh handles that haziness deliberately and with poise. She lets Calla find more words for her feelings very gradually, demonstrating the near impossibility of trying to articulate or rationalise maternal desire.
Cho Nam-Joo, trans. Jamie Chang
MixedThe Times (UK)Cho’s book has, in just over three years, sold more than one million copies in Korea, and has been translated into 18 languages and adapted into a feature film. While Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a compelling text, however, it isn’t really a novel. It is a treatise and a howl of anger dressed up in novel form ... But the book is an international bestseller because it describes experiences that will be recognisable everywhere. Its slim, unadorned narrative distils a lifetime’s iniquities into a sharp punch. And at its best, the book demonstrates the unfairness of the female experience and the sheer difficulty of improving it ... The problem is that Cho prioritises argument over character, and seems to be more concerned with disseminating facts than devising fiction. The prose is sparse and academic, riddled with statistics and footnotes ... So Jiyoung is supposed to represent all women, which explains her confusions of identity. But in aiming to prove that these experiences are universal, Cho has settled for making them generic; and for all the persuasiveness and urgency of her argument, that is not what novelists do.
RaveThe Times (UK)... sad, slow, magnificent ... is worth reading for the poetry alone. Pufahl teaches creative writing at Stanford University, which helps explain how her first novel can be quite so accomplished, but even so the prose is unexpectedly graceful: quietly lyrical and self-assured. Every word is considered; every sentence has a shape. Some passages of description are so well designed that they contain linguistic echoes binding them together, like extended visual rhymes ... in these characters’ cautious balancing of desire and self-restraint — ostensibly forced on them by their place and time, and their particular, \'unconventional\' urges — the novel also has something universal to say about the necessary risk of love ... the novel is ultimately a powerful call for precisely that defencelessness: the need to push beyond the guarded edges to open up the heart.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Quichotte...is a beautifully executed move. The writing isn’t perfect: there is little of the observational brilliance that enriched Rushdie’s early novels, and it suffers from some of the faults of excess to which, in his garrulous exuberance, he is always prone. The open-armed prose has a very annoying habit of accommodating meaningless lists ... There is clutter and occasional cliché, a weakness for ponderous explanation and a kind of jumpy, high- frequency bathos when the author seems to realize it, and tries to keep things brisk and light. But...Quichotte is cleverly plotted and compellingly paced, a constant reminder that precious few writers can maneuver a sentence like Rushdie, and a moving story about love and the importance of family too. It is the antithesis of unreadable ... Quichotte’s experience builds delightfully on Quixote’s ... Rushdie’s real inheritance from Cervantes is a fascination with the porous boundary between reality and fiction ... despite the visible scaffolding, you won’t fail to be convinced. Its fully drawn characters will spill over into your consciousness, and, just as the world around him mourned the death of mad old Quixote, for all Quichotte’s absurdity, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)The protagonists in Live a Little are elderly, and Jacobson delights in divulging, with impudent humour, their infirmities and embarrassments: their frailty, their fears of incontinence, their vain attempts to retain any sort of sexual allure ... But Live a Little is not bitter. At its heart is an affectionate, life-affirming love story, and the emotion it leaves you with is joy ... Naturally, there are imperfections, which usually arise in the service of a joke: flippant asides or minor characters that exist only to elicit a laugh ... But the characterisation of the leads is superb: Shimi the tortured antihero might have been written by Saul Bellow, and Beryl is an extraordinarily rich and sympathetic figure, full of life-force and humour and commanding authority layered over a deep-seated self-doubt. Jacobson’s prose is nimble and elegant. The message this novel contains is a simple, affecting one, about the capacity to determine one’s future, no matter how late.
MixedThe Times (UK)Since not a great deal happens in Say Say Say the narrator has ample space to explore her thoughts and to experiment with turning them into words. The novel’s great achievement in this process is its honesty. Before becoming a writer, Savage worked for nearly a decade as a carer, so her portrayal of the role feels valuable and real; and despite the obviously autobiographical basis for her fiction, Savage never sanitises Ella’s thinking ... Savage’s willingness to delve into such earnest self-examination has already earned some glittering reviews in the US ... But this exercise comes at a cost to characterisation and prose. The small cast around Ella is shown only through the lens of her introspection: Bryn barely exists except as an object of Ella’s interest, and Jill’s inner life — remarkably, for a story told by her caregiver — is effectively ignored. Instead, Savage focuses her efforts on the pursuit of verbal flair. The writing is heavy with adjectives, and its favoured mode is the compound sentence, with phrases stacked on top of each other in the hope of adding layers of meaning or of creating more lyrical prose. All too often these flourishes bring little but rhythm to the sentence ... So the title is an unfortunate reflection of the style: prose that always wants to say, say, say, in triplicate, without sometimes saying very much at all.
RaveThe TimesHow best to acknowledge the ingenuity of this novel without making it sound like a niche literary interest? ... while it might sound like a literary experiment, it turns out to be one of the most original and exquisite novels of the year ... First, though, it is an excellent King Lear ... The prose is full of linguistic echoes of Lear, and Taneja seems determined to show that there is nothing of Shakespeare’s that she can’t make relevant and alive. In this sense, the shift to India is revelatory. There is something unique about modern India, and the way it occupies a space at once exotic and familiar, that has the extraordinary effect, by adding distance, of bringing Shakespeare closer, of making Lear more real ... the basti, a Delhi slum: the tattered clothes and flimsy shelters of its destitute inhabitants bring Shakespeare’s \'loop’d and window’d raggedness\' to tragic life ... her immersive present tense takes a story we know and makes it urgent and irresistible. This is a new voice, vivid, full of imagery and pace, and with a richness to match the vibrancy of its world.