MixedFinancial Times (UK)Though this collection of essays was planned and written long before Covid-19 became our dominant reality, Olivia Laing might seem ahead of the curve ... Her words seem balefully accurate, given what has now overtaken us. Yet amid all this turmoil, art can help, Laing suggests ... The most satisfying of these pieces show us artists who lit a beacon in the most arduous of circumstances. Laing is a generous guide, and her appraisals can be insightful ... Most of the pieces in Funny Weather began as journalism. Not all deserve a repeat airing. Laing’s profiles tend to the formulaic; many of her reviews glance off her subjects rather than fully penetrating them. The best essay collections — reminiscent of Joan Didion or even Martin Amis — offer a quizzical intelligence on the loose, cruising for surprise and enchantment, occasionally violence. Too few of these articles, however, contain that vital element of daring. And it’s not clear how they speak to the theme. Can David Hockney’s art really be read as a response to emergency? Can David Bowie’s? ... Nonetheless, Funny Weather poses a powerful and important question, one that’s been nagging away at many of us this past month or so. With bookshops closed, theatres dark and museums shuttered, what is art’s role when we’re running short of PPE and ICU beds? As Laing phrases it: \'Can art do anything, especially during periods of crisis?\'
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)It is a riveting story, nimbly told ... Shapiro spotlights several...moments, drawing out scrupulously researched detail from each ... The only question that Shapiro’s book doesn’t satisfyingly address is whether Shakespeare is still a mirror through which most Americans see themselves. Well-known though the plays remain in the US, they are no longer on the lips of politicians and ordinary citizens.
Zora Neale Hurston
RaveFinancial Times (UK)... apprentice efforts to mature small masterpieces ... As ever with Hurston, it’s the range that impresses. Jostling in these handsomely edited pages are tales that read like magical-realist folklore, alongside miniature epics conjuring 1920s Harlem in the style of the King James Bible...as well as poignant portrayals of Florida life, so evocative you can smell the jasmine ... Hurston’s matchless ear for the rhythms and cadence of African-American speech (honed during her anthropological work) animates these tales; so too does her sly way with a moral ... Above all, it’s Hurston’s attentiveness to female figures that stays with you.
PositiveFinancial TimesFor all that he’s little-known in the west, the Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa is one of the most intriguing figures in early modernist fiction. Mercurially talented, hugely popular in his own country, he left behind a slim and arrestingly odd body of work...Perhaps it’s not surprising that David Peace, who rivals Akutagawa for genre-bending inventiveness, should have adopted him as a kind of father figure. Peace has long been fascinated by Akutagawa’s work, to the point of basing the second volume of his ongoing Tokyo trilogy on In a Bamboo Grove. The new work, Patient X, goes one step further, not only summoning the ghost of his Japanese antecedent but attempting to crawl inside his skin ... Peace being Peace, that thumbnail description doesn’t quite do the book justice. Described as \'inspired and informed by the stories, essays and letters of Ryunosuke Akutagawa himself, incidents from his own life, and the memories and writings of people around him\', Patient X hovers somewhere between biographical novel, short story sequence, act of shamanistic ventriloquism and homage to Akutagawa’s singular oeuvre.
PositiveThe Financial TimesSubtitled \'A Life of Reading,\' it maps not a metropolis, but White’s cavernous and idiosyncratic mind. Culled from essays and criticism, it is something between a tell-all confessional, a piece of after-dinner table talk, a lecture series on Great Writers You Should Know, and a rallying cry for the pleasures of reading ... his interest in the pleasures of the body, as well as the pleasures of the page, is as unabashedly frank as ever; as the title suggests, they seem, in White’s view, to proceed from the same source ... it’s when he lingers that the book is at its most illuminating ... Is The Unpunished Vice any more than reheated journalism? It’s difficult to say. Despite thematic linkages, no large theme emerges; what statements there are tend towards the numinous, or the plain obvious ... the best writers are energetic readers, constantly diving for buried treasure. In turn, anyone who encounters this book is likely to emerge with something new and gleaming.
PositiveThe Financial TimesWith nods to James Baldwin and the Black Lives Matter movement, and echoes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013) — a story of a young Nigerian woman trying to make sense of the US — Speak No Evil could easily feel like an assemblage of trending motifs. What saves the book is its adept storytelling and eye for lucid detail; though the destination of this story is tragically unsurprising, it has the stomach-churning pace of a Greek tragedy. Iweala’s scope is modest — those handful of streets, 10 or so scenes, a couple of hundred pages — but the novel burns with teenage intensity ... Some of the narrative signposting is so obtrusive as to be a trip hazard, and the decision to tell the final section from another perspective makes the denouement more muddled than it should be. Given that the author grew up in Washington, the place feels oddly remote: a city under glass rather than a metropolis with its own tangled racial history. Yet even though you long for Iweala to write something more symphonic and densely woven next time, Speak No Evil has a seriousness that feels authentic to its subject. It is a quieter achievement than Beasts; but no less sincere.
MixedThe Financial TimesCarey’s eye for zestful storytelling is as sharp as ever — as is his ventriloquist’s ear … A Long Way from Home’s strength — that hyperactive zest — is also its chief flaw. Often it feels as if the author is not so much writing a story as wrestling a whole armful of them; no sooner does he have one pinned down than another escapes, squirming through the antipodean dust … For all its comic brio, A Long Way from Home tugs inescapably towards tragedy, and often seems overwhelmed by it. Traversing territory seeded with bitterness and sorrow, past numberless sites of outrages against indigenous communities, Willie and Irene are unsure how best to navigate; and perhaps that is Carey’s anxiety too.
PositiveThe GuardianBalancing Acts is at least partly a memoir, melded with lessons learned from three decades at the hard end of the directing/producing business ... It should be read not simply by anyone who has an interest in British theatre, but anyone interested in that oldest of questions: how you make art that sells ... Though it sounds perverse to criticise the memoirs of an artistic director for featuring too much theatre, sometimes Balancing Acts reads like a rollcall of tributes, from acting pals to canteen staff, to legal team, to Trevor Nunn... While as a director he is never less than rigorous and imaginative – as anyone who has seen his productions can testify – emotional openness is not always his strong suit ... That’s not to say there aren’t brief flashes of the private man, who sounds an altogether more mischievous figure than the smooth-talking, high-achieving workaholic on public view.
PanThe GuardianFor all its excitements, the journey must have been a slog, and the book has something of that feel, too. Dromgoole joined the travellers only intermittently, and his descriptions, while atmospheric, often have a scrambled, straight-off-the-plane quality, with every after-show drink or impromptu chat ransacked for significance ... Dromgoole is at his best on home turf, roaming around the vastnesses of Shakespeare’s longest script. There’s good nitty-gritty on the practicalities of staging, and some battle-hardened textual insights ... There is no doubting their courage, but why are his actors visiting all these countries? As with so many questions in Hamlet, this one doesn’t really find an answer.