RaveThe Times (UK)A proper work of literature, expertly structured, populated by characters and not caricatures and told in coruscating and confident prose with not a duff sentence in more than 400 pages ... There will never be a superior account of how Hollywood blockbusters got made in the early decades of the 21st century.
RaveThe Times (UK)A Heiny heroine is always sassy, funny, self-deprecating and unreliable. Bad things happen to her, but she would burst out laughing were you to call her a victim because she has done worse things herself. Within a couple of paragraphs you know her intimately, but she is also a little unknowable because she doesn’t entirely know herself, which is what makes every Heiny plot an adventure ... Heiny is habitually congratulated for writing feelgood stories, but if these pointed, satirical, emotionally ruthless takes on humanity merely made me feel good, I wouldn’t value them half as much.
RaveThe Times (UK)... a confection of short storytelling, sci-fi, satire and brain-stretching ideas about consciousness. It sounds heavy but it slips down. Even its occasional dollops of sentimentality are well-measured dollops ... It is hard to pick a favourite story... They are all my contenders. The chapter of operational notes for citizen spies, set out in rudimentary verse, probably not ... What astounds is the visual brilliance of Egan’s writing across these disparate tales ... The more vivid the description, the more a chapter immerses us in the head of a character, the more it highlights the book’s central idea. Magnates such as the Boutons and Zuckerbergs believe that vast chunks of us live in similar ways and must think similar thoughts. These they commodify and exploit. Great novelists know there is more to individuals than their preferences as consumers and strive to illuminate what makes us unique ... By means probably even they cannot explain, novelists loot the experiences of others and distribute them equably with no reference to fancy uploading machines. And no one writing now does it more generously than Egan. I hope she wins another Pulitzer.
RaveThe Times (UK)Kidd gives the world what is instantly one of fiction’s great spectral double acts ... If the novel has any problem at all it is that the debate over whether a human may also be a fish or whether such a specimen must be a fraud cannot long be sustained ... Kidd’s descriptive prose is similarly animated, unusual, alarming ... features a large cast of gargoyles fit for Dickens to applaud, a caddish villain and an intricate plot narrated through two time schemes in, respectively, the present and past tense. It is not a quick read because of the writing’s ornate intricacy, but it is an astonishingly satisfying one. To borrow the novel’s watery leitmotif, it is immersive, and although it would be telling to reveal whether or not Bridie and Ruby get it together, this reader fell deeply for them both.
PositiveThe Times (UK)In reviewing Zadie Smith’s diverse first book of short stories, it would be outrageous not to praise the author’s versatility ... Smith’s readers should get some credit too, however, for their fortitude. These are not pages to relax into; personally, I felt as if I was on a gruelling psychological training course in which I was constantly under assault from different aspects of Smith’s talent. For all their brilliance, only the author, surely, could engage with each of the 19 stories equally ...the collection’s masterpieces are the rather more traditional stories. These employ prose so limpid to describe unvarnished reality that it might be in the early novellas of Truman Capote, and conclude with illuminating twists that could make Guy de Maupassant envious ... The true spice of this collection is not its variety; it is Smith’s glorious viciousness.
MixedThe Times (UK)First, let’s address Reasons to be Cheerful’s tone...It is unique. Arch, knowing, naive, faux-naif, humble yet self-regarding, candid yet prim, judgmental yet full of heart. It has been compared to Sue Townsend’s voice, but I could haul in Alan Bennett, Barbara Pym and even Jane Austen as influences without nailing it. Plain adorable to some, for me its mannered chattiness would be intolerable were the jokes not so good ... [Stibbe] is a tremendous observer ... For all that, it is often unclear what the point of her humour is ... Lizzie’s inability to distinguish between the trivial and the important may explain the novel’s great weakness. And here we come to it: it is its plotting, or, rather, its lack of plot ... When something big happens, out of nowhere, towards the end, Lizzie is temperamentally incapable of addressing its magnitude and her comfortably comic voice remains intact, as if that were the most important thing ... Perhaps Reasons to be Cheerfulis what it looks like when Stibbe writes a political novel, but it is a funny way to write polemic, or even satire. A stylistic triumph is a stylistic triumph, but this one feels like a pyrrhic victory too.
MixedThe TimesAhern writes limpidly and intelligently ... This gallery of oppressed, neglected and underrated womanhood is cumulatively depressing, despite the stories’ comedy and their last paragraph redemptions, some of which, I admit, had me snorting back a tear ... You quickly clock Ahern’s creative process. Seize a cliché (the wannabe mother with \'a ticking clock,\' say) and take it literally (she audibly ticks and tocks) ... Ahern’s tone is confidential, sympathetic and witty. Despite its title, Roar purrs rather than shrieks its feminism.
Nicholas A. Christakis
PositiveThe Sunday TimesIt brims with good news about human nature ... It is a multidisciplinary tour de force ranging from how sailors survived being shipwrecked (best tip: work as a team and be decent to one another) to experiments in social networks conducted from his wonderfully named \'human nature lab\' at Yale ... For the non-specialist readers, Blueprint presents a number of puzzles ... The book is likely to be controversial for several reasons. If genes determine so much of how we behave, what purchase is left for free will, for instance ... What is already making people angry, however, is the contention that humans are basically good ... It cheered me up reading it, I say.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Despite Lanchester’s affectless style, it is not tedious. As in making darkness visible, there is a skill in making the dull vivid ... a cracking adventure and an astute political fable ... Lancaster is a versatile writer ... The transparency of the book’s themes and style suggests that it is quite possible that he has deliberately chosen in The Wall to write a young adult novel rather than a complex literary fiction. This, anyway, is what he has done, and it is a very good one. Every secondary school library in the country needs to order a copy.
RaveThe Times (UK)\"... the prose flows easily ... When [characters embrace the turbulence in their lives], it is unexpectedly moving ... The tone is melancholy, but the prose is wry ... This is a minor work, not half the length of ATMI, yet in some ways Szalay’s task is harder. He must encapsulate essential personality within mere fragments of lives rather than whole chapters; half the main characters are women (as opposed to none); there is less recourse to satire. In the end, these moments of turbulence cannot represent all that a man (or woman) is. However, Szalay’s gift for inhabiting entirely different lives is as remarkable and spooky as ever.\
PositiveThe Times (UK)Comic books used to advertise mail-order x-ray spectacles, the main use of which, at least as indicated in the accompanying drawings, was to see through women’s clothing. I am pretty sure they didn’t work. The anonymous narrator of Jessie Greengrass’s first novel — a literary and uncomic novel if there ever was one — is more ambitiously interested in seeing into people’s souls. Her conclusion is, I think, that it cannot be done, and were it to be possible it would be as much an act of violence as a gift ... The narrator speaks with empathy, having had a terrifying shrink of a grandmother — Doctor K — who analysed her over breakfast. Granny is not the only problematic family member. Her father deserts. Her mother’s early death does not warm up their cold relations ... Each is refracted through the narrator’s exhaustive unhappiness, expressed in philosophically turned sentences that can last more than 100 words and over paragraphs that plough through two and a half pages ... Take an x-ray of Sight and the scan would reveal something resembling the contents of a tin of cassoulet: good things floating in a thick and indistinct sauce; largely unappetising.