MixedTimes Literary Supplement (UK)Ambitious ... McFarlane amplifies her theme in ways that are often touching and ingenious ... A likeable addition to the tradition of which it forms a part: its style is at once spare and attentive to detail, and Fiona McFarlane has a sharp eye for historical injustices. But the ambitious scale inevitably creates problems for the author ... While fulfilling the cultural ambition of the book, these add to its mood of restlessness. In one sense this is fine – the story is primarily concerned with obstacles to feeling comfortably at home. In another it causes concerns of the kind that Henry James warned about when discussing multiple points of view: no matter how much we might sympathize with the reasons for its inclusiveness, the novel’s frequent reframings test the resilience of our emotional engagement.
Orhan Pamuk tr. Ekin Oklap
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Pamuk establishes his cast with a marked lack of rhetorical flourish: if the intention is to create the appearance of reliable historical accuracy, it succeeds almost too well. The accumulation of characters and of background details, many of which serve no purpose in powering the plot, can feel suffocating in their profusion. Then Bonkowski is found murdered and it seems likely this will make the wheels of the story turn faster. It doesn’t – for all that we hear about the faraway sultan’s interest in murder-mysteries and the deductive methods of Sherlock Holmes. Instead the novel rolls forwards at the same imperturbable pace, offering incidental clutter with the same unruffled air as it records more significant events ... the prevailing tone of our \'objective historian\' narrator remains so composed that the turmoil feels oddly lacking in drama ... The book’s 700 pages don’t create much variety in pace, despite the torrent of events that pours through them. But the objective tone of the prose, which allows for a sense that all human activity, however noble in intention, might be infected with foolish vanity, and which is well caught by Oklap’s alert translation, means that a necessary degree of lightness attaches to even the gravest of its themes. The question of the role of \'personality\' in history lies near the novel’s heart, and the answer is that it is crucial – though often in ways that are unintended, and always in a manner that is \'shaped by history itself\'. You can, with difficulty, take an island out of an empire, Orhan Pamuk implies, but taking the empire out of an island is no less complicated a procedure.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)[Hamilton] uses the adventurous device of employing a copy of the first edition [of Rebellion] as his narrator ... The Pages is a peculiar sort of audio book, ingeniously sympathetic to its inspiration ... At the heart of things is a pretty straightforward mystery yarn ... Multiplicity of narratives has a congestive effect on the pages of The Pages, but the fable-like style means that we generally accept the somewhat flattened nature of his characters. Hamilton’s principal interest here is the interconnectedness of time, rather than the details of individual personalities ... Even with the conventions of fable, it feels excessive to have so many plot lines converging on the same point ... Still, the climax of the novel’s adventure story comes as a surprise.
RaveThe GuardianCarson...is an exceptionally daring and clever poet...and her British readership is much smaller than it should be. Although the look of Nox is very beguiling...it probably won\'t do much to change that. It\'s not exactly a companionable object. This is at once impressive, because the poem deserves the attention it demands, and a pity – because it\'s a deeply affecting piece of work, and everyone who has known grief will feel they can identify with at least some parts of it ... Nox is a brilliantly curated collection of fragments, which analyses and manifests the elusiveness that all human beings detect in one another, no matter how much they love them ... The deconstruction of \'Poem 101\'...allows the construction of Nox. It gives it backbone, as well as a clear theme. This, like other elements of the structure, revolves around how much or how little it is possible to grasp of a person, which Carson interestingly equates with the question of translation itself ... Carson\'s ingenuities have breathed new energy into an ancient truth ... It\'s a very learned text. But it\'s also a very playful one, and a very moving one.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Although even his most abstruse poems include moments that are simple, sensuous and passionate, their prevailing circumstances are generally knotty, learned and compacted. Furthermore, Hill often flaunts these things in ways that seem to register a wish to tease his readers, perhaps even to taunt them ... [This book] contains a mass of learned allusions, and is sometimes so compressed as to border on the gnomic. But it is also often funny (in a somewhat painful and precarious way, like an elephant riding a bicycle), and startling (in its brilliantly sharp recovery of childhood scenes, especially), and just plain interesting (in its gathering of opinions about poetry and poets, politics and politicians) ... These sound patterns give the book its acoustic coherence, and this is reinforced everywhere by an almost obsessive circling of particular themes and characters and settings ... Themes of nationhood, oratory, self-examination and poetry itself compete for the poet’s focused attention. Styles of epigram, lyric, expostulation, rebuke and narration all jostle for space ... Overall, though, and perhaps because he is mindful of this being a collection of Last Things, the mood is generally less grumpy than before...so as to convey a sense of humility...with a view to capturing a deeper and stiller mood of sorrow ... In its passion and clarity, The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin will be gratefully received by those who find Hill’s earlier work his most affecting ... in its sheer abundance, as well as its manifold beauties and rigorous interrogations, the book can only confirm our sense of the magnitude of his achievement.
PositiveThe GuardianNow We Shall Be Entirely Free is set in the early Romantic period, and like [its] precursors it plays no formal tricks and has no obvious ludic or cultural self-consciousness ... John Lacroix, is closed off from those around him. In other words, the new novel again combines a forward-diving narrative with the description of a state of bafflement. Miller’s principal means of operation and his principal character pull in different directions ... we are reminded again of both the strengths of Miller’s procedures, and their limitations. The pacing of his story is excellent; his style is crisp; his apprehension of pain is arresting; and his ability to show people trembling at the edge of un-reason is compelling ... But as the story reaches its climax, the tension between action and withholding becomes increasingly problematic. It’s not just that Lacroix is reticent, and that so much action happens off stage or invisibly. It’s also that when Lacroix does finally confess the full story of what happened in Spain, he reveals a paralysis in himself that we are never entirely convinced has been cured. Is this plausible psychology? Possibly. Does it show a conflict in Miller himself, between his appetite for writing a historical yarn and something quieter, more subtle and more inward? This seems just as likely.
RaveThe SpectatorLanny, Porter’s new novel, uses many of the same techniques as its predecessor ... Lanny addresses a similar set of themes too ... What is different, this time round, is the larger social dimension Porter gives to these things—and it is this, more than anything else, that not only prevents the new book from seeming like a recasting of the first, but an impressive step beyond it ... The extent to which we are the authors of our own difficulties is one of Porter’s main concerns, and when Lanny disappears this theme becomes paramount ... by continuing to combine the close observation of things in themselves with flights of fancy, and by mixing orthodoxies such as good pacing and convincing characterization with formal inventiveness, he devises a conclusion which is at once strange and moving.
PositiveThe Guardian\"... language is generally spare and efficient... and its two principal characters are stripped of virtually all their individuality ... It would be deflationary to deduce from this that Eggers thinks progress is a Bad Thing. Rather, his allegory is designed to make us realise the dangers of \'improvements\', when their use is exploited by those who control the levers of power. His novel may be sternly reduced in terms of its cast and language, but this leanness doesn’t diminish the strength of its argument.\
Jean Moorcroft Wilson
RaveThe SpectatorJean Moorcroft Wilson\'s...book tells only the first half of Graves’s story, but adds a valuable degree of detail to the several existing biographies and, thanks to the sympathy it shows for all aspects of Graves’s character, is consistently illuminating ... It also, by promoting a curious combination of devotion and dissociation in his sensibility, seems to have given a governing shape to the marriage he made shortly before the war ended — to Nancy Nicholson, with whom he had four children. For the same sort of reasons it even more decisively affected the life they subsequently shared with Laura Riding in a ménage à trois that, before it finally and notoriously ended with Riding and then Graves jumping out of windows in a flat in Hammersmith ... In the closing pages of the book, we see Graves and Riding living alone together in Majorca, with money in the bank, thanks to the success of Good-Bye to All That, swaying in a precarious balance for which they have paid a very high price in terms of friendship with others. We also understand there’s not a hope in hell it will last. Cue volume two, which Moorcroft Wilson says she looks forward to writing, and we should look forward to reading.
PositiveThe Guardian\"[Hadley\'s] particular strength is to combine a deep excavation of human frailty with compassion for its effects. Late in the Day, her seventh novel, is no exception ... Hadley presents every member of her quartet in bright primary colours ... All the scenes are adroitly handled, as one would expect: action and description are well balanced, and the materials of the book (the food, the drink, clothes, the hair, the urban landscape) are all deployed with a convincing sense of solidity ... In the fifth of the seven sections, things perk up with a betrayal that sparks a new energy, allowing the remainder of the book to move more quickly, become rather less hearty in tone, and engage more nimbly with matters both outside and within the world of domestic intrigue.\
MixedThe GuardianIt is a book of epic sweep, although a significant part of its achievement is to create the sense of a large scale within a tight format: it’s only 272 pages long. Another success is to handle the same themes of conflict, oppression and reconciliation as [his] first book, but to do so in such a strikingly different context as to create a strikingly different effect. It has to be said, though, that while the thematic focus is never in doubt, the narrative line in the civil war sections is sometimes too densely packed. Does Powers – who also writes poems that tend to depend on glimpses and glances rather than extrapolated stories – feel that it’s banal simply to set things fair and square before the reader? Possibly, and possibly with good reason. But the fact is that several of his characters aren’t given space to establish themselves strongly enough in our mind’s eye, and some elements of the drama feel blurred or hurried ... Powers is at his best when he contemplates scenes of inhumanity, considers questions of self-determination in a context of crisis, and weighs the lessons they teach about the need for loving-kindness ... while this means A Shout in the Ruins doesn’t have uniform intensity, it certainly confirms Powers as a significant talent.
MixedThe GuardianIn Ondaatje’s new novel, his eighth, his appetite for imprecision is stronger than ever (the title itself shrouds the action in a kind of twilight: the dimmed warlight in the wake of the blitz) ...
Ondaatje is a skilfully deliberate writer, and these secrets inevitably generate a certain degree of suspense ... But so regular is the pattern of uncertainty in this opening section of the novel, and so deep is the shading of motive and consequence, that it’s hard not to feel a degree of impatience ... we don’t really feel the threat on our pulses ... Rather than closing the book convinced that psychological insights have been generated by Jamesian withholdings, we might equally well feel that characters have been flattened by our simply not knowing enough about them, and that our interest in their doings is diminished by the same means.
PanThe Guardian\"As the book effectively opens with a résumé of the entire plot, the central part of First Person involves a large amount of recapitulation; it is constantly in danger of grinding to a halt, no matter how often Flanagan tries to tease the narrative forward ... The components of First Person that don’t involve Heidl directly seem to exist at a strange distance from its centre, either because the characters are drawn too sketchily, or because Flanagan writes about them in prose of a different quality from the main part of his book ... In his final pages, Flanagan tries to reconcile these diverse elements by elevating his antihero to the status of a messenger from the future. It’s a bold move, but more interesting in terms of argument than character or style – both of which feel rather papery.\
PositiveThe GuardianRepeated words, pronouns not clearly referring to one character or another, flabbily padded phrases, irritating tics of style, eruptions of verbosity: there is so much distractingly bad writing in the first section of Neel Mukherjee’s new novel, it’s difficult to concentrate on what he is actually saying ... But anyone tempted to abandon the book at this point should persevere. Although later pages are still liable to congestion and carelessness, they are much better written. They’re also ambitiously and intelligently engaged with important themes – several of which are treated explicitly (deracination, the inequalities of Indian society), and one of which emerges more subtly, through clever and well-handled plotting ... This linked structure emphasises the value of life as life, regardless of wealth and status and circumstance. But it also conveys a sense of inter-relatedness that allows Mukherjee to say something about how families and communities work in general, and about how Indian society functions in particular ... At a time when the manifold dramas of migration are centre stage, we often hear writers making the sound of lamentation. The sound of grief is audible everywhere in A Sense of Freedom, but it never drowns out the voices insisting on their right to thrive. One of the most dynamic aspects of Mukherjee’s flawed but vital novel is that even while facing up to unhappiness it continues to show an affirming flame.
Orhan Pamuk, Trans. by Ekin Oklap
PositiveThe GuardianThe Red-Haired Woman, translated by Ekin Oklap, is driven by the same obsessions, but develops them in suggestive new directions ...it blends the close observation of details with the broad brushstrokes usually associated with myth-making and fables ... At every turn, Pamuk balances the actual against the symbolic. The well is a site of genuinely hard work, but also a dive into the subconscious ... As Cem and Ayse begin to see the larger political issues raised by these stories, so we start to read The Red-Haired Woman as a parable about present-day Turkey... In a novel less thoroughly aware of its own strategies, this authorial friskiness would seem clunky. Here it seems happily all-of-a-piece.
PositiveThe GuardianIn previous novels, Hamid has used a heavily inflected narrative voice to filter everything through a personality that is not his own, but which he nevertheless owns as the author...Exit West confidently adopts yet another kind of voice – a tone of radical simplicity that in the opening 50-odd pages borders on brutality, and makes every conversation, every detail, every scene feel at once vital and under threat ... The mixture of clarity and restraint in [certain] passages is very impressive, and confirms Hamid’s reputation as a brilliant ventriloquist who is deeply engaged with the most pressing issues of our time ... Hamid describes these threats in terms that deliberately echo some of the intolerant voices raised by Brexiters: there is a 'reclaim Britain for Britain' movement of 'nativists,' for instance, which soon forces a political crisis. And not only political. A major part of Hamid’s achievement in Exit West is to show how profoundly social damage will injure private lives – not only in obvious ways (physical injury, homelessness), but by hampering the ability to construct any sort of life outside their sphere of influence ... When he approaches his conclusion...his bare statement style works against him. Initially it compelled us to sup full of horrors. Now it seems a little thin, and therefore conveys a sense of wishful thinking.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe aim in all three sections is to bring the region ‘back to life,’ and to use its sights and sounds and histories as a means of asking what is involved when a person says he feels at home in a place. But what sort of place is he talking about? Although he does at one point traverse a region that is actually called ‘The Marches,’ the geography of the book is much better suggested by his father’s term “The Middleland’ … Because Stewart’s family has lived in this region for several generations, he enters it at the beginning of his book with a clear idea of what he hopes to find waiting for him. But from the outset things don’t go as planned … Stewart manages to deepen and broaden his focus on cultural heritage in the central part of his journey. His richest material flows from the conversations with people he meets along his way.
Amos Oz, Trans. by Nicholas de Lange
PositiveThe Guardian\"...a very absorbing addition to his remarkable oeuvre ... Oz is more interested in the political and religious questions that surround them than he is in nuanced characterisation ... Oz presents the clash of idealisms in such a way as to allow Israel’s recent past to reverberate in the present, while at the same time connecting them to the much more ancient Judas story that fascinates Shmuel. It’s a complex and impressive achievement.\
PositiveThe Guardian“At every turn (and the structure and setting of the book are very tight, so there aren’t many turns), The Blue Guitar leaves us in the hands of a character who wants to think big thoughts about the mess he has made of things, but who struggles to rise to the occasion.”