PositiveThe Guardian (UK)A hopeful book and it studies people who act on their hope ... The novel musters its energy for another ascent, refusing to be crestfallen.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Written with caressing attention to its characters, a kind of long massage that seeks out tiny subcutaneous knots.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Partly about an enslaved man on a Jamaican sugar plantation, and it’s a comedy: those two things at once. Few would dare; fewer could pull it off as Smith does here, mixing narrative delight with a vein of rapid, skimming satire as she sketches scenes of life in 19th-century England and the Caribbean ... A complicated mosaic of episodes from interleaved plots ... In all her novels, Smith refuses single trajectories and central heroes. Here, in glimpses and panoramas, she finds the meshing fibres of the world that link Bogle with the eminent Victorian novelist writing romances, with the Stepney woman cheering an impostor in a courtroom, and with Eliza ... A curious combination of gloriously light, deft writing and strenuous construction. There’s a risk of readerly bafflement as bright shards of narrative are shaken into unpredictable combinations across time and place. But the novel’s hybridity becomes part of its fascination. It slows and expands lavishly in honour of its Victorian subjects, yet its chapters are elliptical half-scenes chosen with modernist economy.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Strout is writing masterpieces at a pace you might not suspect from their spaciousness and steady beauty ... William is hard to like, and Lucy’s acceptance of him requires our attentive reflection. Strout refuses the easy satisfactions of a tender tale, though she is deeply interested in what these people can give each other ... Each of these books is complete in itself. The relationships between them are remarkable, but would be just as compelling if one read the Lucy sequence in reverse. I’m a little more doubtful about Strout’s insistence that all her novels chart the same fictional world, with characters liable to reappear at any moment ... Strout has written another wondrously living book, as fine a pandemic novel as one could hope for.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Jon McGregor has a quietly and brilliantly transformative way of mixing up genres ... McGregor pivots from one kind of story to another with profound effect ... You might think you were in a Gertrude Stein novel, or James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and for good reason. Many modernist writers were deeply interested in language loss, the creative rhymes and substitutions that patients employ, and what they might reveal about our processes of communication ... Lean Fall Stand doesn’t have the lyric force and structural patterning that gave Reservoir 13 such extraordinary rhythmic momentum. Nonetheless, it’s a novel of complex feeling and beautiful restraint from one of the finest writers around.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a highly distinctive novel of great vigour and boldness. From mystical visions that may or may not be divine, to the earthy business of abbey pigs, diseases and account books, Groff does it all with purpose and panache ... we are carried on the force of her style, and held by the strength of an intelligence that lets comedy and emotional complexity work together ... this is not historical fiction as an escape route from the present. It is an assertively modern novel about leadership, ambition and enterprise, and about the communal life of individuals ... Groff refuses easy feminist wins ... There is blessedly little lecturing and moralising in Matrix ... Those who love Marie describe \'a grandeur of spirit so vast that it takes one’s breath away\'. There’s a grand spirit, too, in this novel that makes her.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)In Williams’s writing, the simple words and actions don’t invalidate or override the hesitant, sidelong or circumlocutory ones: she is keen to make room for them all ... Though she’s interested in light touches and flickers, Williams has a taste for the joke squeezed until it yields its most absurdist juices ... a warm, intricate novel shaped by a powerfully humane and uncoercive intelligence. It’s a book of big ideas in a minor key. Sceptical about grand visions, it is also resistant to conclusion, so that perhaps the best kind of readerly tribute is to say: \'Of this novel I know not the meaning.\'
RaveThe Guardian (UK)...magnificent ... The portrait of Thomas Cromwell...now concludes with a novel of epic proportions, every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors ... orking with and against our foreknowledge, Mantel keeps us on the brink, each day to be invented ... The Mirror & the Light is generously self-sufficient – to read this alone would hardly be skimping: it is four or five books in itself. But it also continues, deepens, and revises its forebears, negotiating with its past as does Cromwell with his ... [Mantel] is still exuberantly rethinking what novels can do. Not since Bleak House has the present tense performed such magic. The narrative voice rides at times like a spirit or angel on thermals of vitality, catching the turning seasons, the rhythms of work and dreams, cities and kitchens and heartbeats ... Endings, insists Cromwell, are opportunities. What begins now is the rereading. For this is a masterpiece that will keep yielding its riches, changing as its readers change, going forward with us into the future.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Enright is quick, knowing, enjoyably sharp as she sketches in the career of a romantic screen heroine ... Enright’s novel works by circling and revisiting certain encounters, weighing them for meaning, taking account of numbness and aberrant feeling. Rather than the strong arcs of loss and resolution in a Hollywood plot, Actress makes room for siftings and digressions ... There are leaps of joy in Actress, for all its darkness. It sparkles with light, rapid, shrugging wit; cliches are skewered in seconds, and thespian types are affectionately set in motion to carry on chatting in the margins. The magic of pre-war touring players, holding audiences rapt in country halls, is richly done ... The atmosphere of extraordinary pressure and imperilled emotion that Enright evokes in this novel reaches beyond the mother-daughter pair, beyond the power struggles of actors and movie studios, out into the general Dublin night.
PositiveThe GuardianWilliam Feaver has been thinking about this life for decades ... Feaver was more interested in getting things down than making them up; with dictaphone stretched to the limits, he had the most superlative material – and he was bound to it. Large tracts of what we have here are Freud by Freud ... Neither Freud nor Feaver go looking for causes; both avoid the methods of grandfather Sigmund ... Feaver lets non-sequiturs produce their own effect. There’s some fine judgment in the way he does this. Early on, I puzzled at the disparate events held together in paragraphs. In the teeming chapters of incident I kept expecting the arrival of a controlled narrative, questions posed and resolved, significant others brought sharply into focus. This biography does not work like that. So what is Feaver doing? ... [Freud\'s] was not a linear view of life, concerned with connections and continuities. To an extreme extent, he acted on impulse, barely connecting one moment with the next. Every page of this volume affirms the distinction. No course of action on a Saturday (even marriage) affected his choice of what to do on Tuesday and Wednesday. Feaver replicates this episodicism in telling the life story. This is Lucian Freudian biography, packed with momentary stories and fundamentally resisting narrative ... readers will reach their own views about the monstrous selfishness of the artist whose art is nonetheless a kind of gift. Feaver won’t tell you what to think about it.
RaveThe GuardianIt is a philosophical meditation on perceptions of reality, achieved by means of beguilingly playful moves from confession to anthropology to social analysis. It is also an elegy for two lost parents ... Scott holds these strands in delicate, elusive dialogue ... Though his book is often as free-wheelingly convivial as a conversation in a bar, Scott watches his own arguments to see how they might hold up through a night’s vigil in intensive care ... I suspect Scott of having spent many nights reading John Donne. Certainly he feels with acuity the shaping power of a metaphorical conceit ... In the tradition of Barthes’s mythographies of everyday life, Scott makes banal things shimmer with meaning ... He operates on a dauntingly large conceptual scale, but there’s a sense of embrace in his cleverness. It’s not often that a highly ambitious work of social analysis speaks so determinedly to the heart.
RaveThe GuardianMax Porter’s second novel is a fable, a collage, a dramatic chorus, a joyously stirred cauldron of words ... Lanny is...remarkable for its simultaneous spareness and extravagance, and again it is a book full of love. It plays pretty close to the edge over which lie the fey and the kooky; anyone allergic to green men may need to take a deep breath. But Porter has no truck with cynicism and gets on, bravely, exuberantly, with rejuvenating our myths ... If the material of modern country life in Lanny feels rather familiar, with its mix of enchantment and ordinariness, emotions flashing out from the creases of routine, Porter’s rendering of it is beguilingly singular, with a freedom and fabular confidence of its own ... It’s not as political commentary or state-of-the-nation study that Lanny speaks most forcefully. It’s the formal inventiveness that will stay in the mind, the shapes and pairings, the sudden eruptions of imagery ... Porter’s writing is poetically concentrated while also deploying a wonderfully common-or-garden kind of language, loved and used, rolling off the tongue. He is a superb writer of children ... There are sections of Lanny that turn too wacky for me ... But Porter is a writer who takes risks, and this is the way new things are made.
MixedThe Guardian\"This is a novel about witnessing, so we must look it firmly in the eye; but it’s a dark, difficult, ambitious and problematic book ... Perry has tried to do much more, ethically and philosophically, in this novel [than her previous novel, The Essex Serpant]. The effort is laudable, though the result is a lesser book ... There is undoubtedly much to enjoy. Perry is a connoisseur of airs that thicken in a watched room. Her showdown set pieces, all appealingly bizarre, deploy every last velvet curtain, shaded lamp, glass ornament and Dvořák aria that her Prague setting can provid ... Yet, in the absence of the finely traced inner lives that can be fiction’s gift, we look at people rather than with them, which puts a limit on how much we can see.\
PositiveThe GuardianGayford starts with people, moments and meetings, standing firm in the belief that \'pictures are affected not only by social and intellectual changes but also by individual sensibility and character.\' Three cheers for that faith in individuals ... Gayford starts with people, moments and meetings, standing firm in the belief that \'pictures are affected not only by social and intellectual changes but also by individual sensibility and character.\' Three cheers for that faith in individuals ... The book’s span allows Gayford to plot several generations in relation to each other, and it’s striking how many of the most potent encounters involve forms of teaching ... Gayford attends particularly to the relationship between long concentration and sudden achievement ... The great figures of the 60s are passing—which is all the more reason to be grateful for a book that takes us right into their world.
PositiveThe GuardianThe Dig is to my mind a richer book than Cove, because it contains multitudes and sets unexpected forces in messy opposition. But Cove, Jones’s fifth novel, is both taut and impressively polymorphous ... The technical complexity of the writing is sometimes too visible; there are shifts of tense, for example, that might baffle Henry Green. But mostly the risks pay off. An elliptical frame narrative throws us out towards another, untold, story. The shape of the book depends on unforced parallels between one untranslatable sign and another ... If the modulation between \'I\' and \'you\' looks tricksy on the page at first, it soon feels true to the experience of tiredness, disorientation and love. It is a distinction of this brief, charged novel that if you ask at any moment \'who is speaking\' it is best not to expect a final answer.
RaveThe Guardian\"This is not a continuation of Autumn, at least not in terms of plots and characters, but the books converse vociferously as they revise each other’s signs and symbols … Protest is one of the novel’s great subjects. CND songs are its tune as much as the old Christmas numbers. It celebrates those who have thought in terms of society rather than self, who have had nightmares (of nuclear winter, of silent spring) and taken them seriously in every living daylight hour … Little is resolved at the end, but the novel works through correspondences that jump across bounds and make accord between unlike things. Leaping, laughing, sad, generous and winter-wise, this is a thing of grace.\
PositiveThe GuardianRankine is not claiming to bring much new research, but she is a thoughtful anthologist of the diverse literary examples she collects. Not content for her book to be merely quirky, she mixes her brolly facts with strong feelings about shelter, containment and changefulness ... Rankine has taken a series of photographs of abandoned umbrellas lying limp in gutters and at kerbsides, spokes jutting out, coloured canvas slicked with mud. One feels, for a moment at least, her attraction to the sad, soaked relic of what was once a welcoming shelter, or to the near-animate presence of a handle protruding from a bin. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that the Japanese imagined old umbrellas to have lives of their own.
RaveThe Financial TimesThis gripping biography, brimming with new material, comes 24 years after Carter’s death and is the first full account of her life...[Gordon] has undertaken feats of scholarship and written an admirably clear-sighted book ... The Invention of Angela Carter is much more about purposeful choices and intellectual energy than about sorcery or fairy charms. Carter’s gleeful whimsicality is here but it’s a grace note. Gordon mistrusts the tendency to mythologise Carter as a white witch of modern literature, and thinks the provocative, high-risk elements of her feminism have too often been flattened to fit political readings of her work ... There have been, and will be, more cracklingly brilliant discussions of Carter’s fiction than Gordon gives here. And if you want a biography like a Carter novel, with striking contrasts and luxuriant prose, all 'blood and brains,' flair and fiesta, you may need to look elsewhere. Gordon’s achievement, however, is tremendous. From baroque entanglements of material and controversy, he brings living contours into view.
PositiveThe GuardianDespite performing a long rap sequence of his own invention, Caliban is a strange lull in the novel’s energy ... Hag-Seed