RaveWall Street JournalMr. Miller, with his acute eye for detail and his practiced sense of timing, describes these Belfast streets and this soldier’s experience so plainly and yet so evocatively that both become new again. We enter rather than observe the picture he paints ... While Mr. Miller is too subtle a writer to make us hope for this hero’s redemption, we can at least cheer on his hard-won survival.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAnd were it not for the narrative’s clandestine hold, the reader too might grow weary of this vacillating companion. For Sojourn is indeed the most introspective—and perhaps disaffected—of Mr. Chaudhuri’s novels; a far cry from his early rich creations. Yet even here, vivid impressions are conveyed in often prosaic sentences and, more mysteriously, in the spaces between those sentences, which seem to resonate as rests do in a musical composition. (It is no coincidence that Mr. Chaudhuri is also a composer and a practitioner of Indian classical music).
RaveThe Wall Street JournalShrines of Gaiety revolves around this grimy power struggle, and yet is—outwardly at least—Ms. Atkinson’s airiest creation to date. A feather-light confection of intersecting dramas that recalls the antic comedies of P.G. Wodehouse, the novel has it all: a runaway teenager, a sleuthing ex-librarian, a dogged Chief Inspector, even a stash of purloined jewels. There is the perfect balance throughout of sweetness and heartbreak ... And, as always, there is the unmistakable zest of Ms. Atkinson’s dry wit ... t is hard to think of another writer who can flit from darkness to levity, often in a single sentence, without lapsing into coyness or cynicism...Ms. Atkinson has perfected the comic wizardry that keeps us both airborne and immersed in her mosaic-like narratives ... if such scenes border on farce—just as some of the novel’s dialogue veers toward archness—this only accentuates the underlying darkness. For here, once again, with nonchalant dexterity, Ms. Atkinson has depicted a world ripped apart by war and a city still emerging from the shroud of \'muffled mourning.\'
RaveWall Street Journal... thrilling ... This layout may seem a little too neat—and, indeed, the symmetry of the novel’s interlocking plots might well have dulled its emotional effect were it not for Ms. Brooks’s almost clairvoyant ability to conjure up the textures of the past and of each character’s inner life ... Above all, she makes us both impatient to see and fearful to learn what might befall Theo, the black graduate student who rediscovers the painting, and, centuries earlier, Jarret, the enslaved horseman whose story forms the heart of the novel ... Alongside this personal drama, Ms. Brooks expertly stages the larger one of the Civil War ... Chapters set in the 19th century are therefore richly populated and dense with talk of emancipation, sedition and corruption. Yet none of this seems forced or perfunctory. Ms. Brooks’s felicitous, economical style and flawless pacing—the way she smoothly accelerates from languor to high adventure—carries us briskly yet unhurriedly along. And the novel’s alternating narratives, by suspending time, also intensify suspense ... Ms. Brooks folds into a love story the weighty matter of racism and its lethal consequences without stalling the graceful narrative flow.
RaveWall Street JournalTina Brown, the writer making the comment in her new royal potboiler, is not, in that sense, nice ... The worst has always brought out the best in Ms. Brown, whose latest book, The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor—the Truth and the Turmoil finds her eager as ever to rummage in the royal laundry basket ... The result of Ms. Brown’s research is a handsome volume—enriched by footnotes and telling photographs—that spans 25 years of a monarchy afflicted by recurring bouts of silliness and sleaze ... If some of the revelations are inevitably a little stale, all are richly seasoned. Indeed, when it comes to pithy asides, Ms. Brown can be positively Wildean ... Zingers crisscross these pages like tracer fire. And though there’s the occasional reckless phrase...most are strategically deployed to enliven a substantial narrative ... The Palace Papers is studded with...jewels. For, like her sovereign, Ms. Brown has always paid attention to detail and done her homework ... Thus armed with reams of solid information and frothy gossip, all expertly winnowed, she becomes the ideal tour guide: witty, opinionated and adept.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... [a] dense and lively chronicle...elucidated with the acuity and sardonic wit that we might expect from this veteran journalist and critic ... The overall tone is irreverent, yet never glib. Mr. O’Toole can certainly skewer the likes of Charles Haughey, for instance, as the erstwhile prime minister poses in equestrian regalia, squires his mistress around, or pockets money donated for a colleague’s liver transplant. But these characterizations are deployed to illuminate the broader, more complex history that Mr. O’Toole knows so well and explicates so clearly. Indeed, We Don’t Know Ourselves, like the best of this author’s journalism, is a model of unflagging research and thoroughness ... vignettes prove as entertaining as they are enlightening, but We Don’t Know Ourselves is perhaps chiefly a call to account—for crimes committed in the name of nationalism or moral purity and for the convenient myopia that facilitated those crimes ... For all its weight, this is a buoyant work. And the leavening agent is, to a large extent, Mr. O’Toole’s own story, which he relates with novelistic flair.
John McGahern, ed. Frank Shovlin
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... ably edited by writer and scholar Frank Shovlin ... The overall effect is consequently immediate and occasionally intimate. Casual anecdotes share the page with striking descriptions of nature, of emotion, of the past ... A vanished parochial Ireland materializes in descriptions of Dublin in the 1960s...while, decades later, a timeless rural present is succinctly captured ... This is a one-sided correspondence, though Mr. Shovlin’s excellent footnotes provide occasional replies. Some of the missives are merely businesslike. But many more are substantial, and these reveal in particular how McGahern worked and how he persevered even during his final illness ... Unlike McGahern’s beautifully shaped novels, this volume of correspondence inevitably comes to an abrupt end. The writer’s life closes and the voice that we have grown fond of hearing in these letters simply falls silent. To the last, however, that voice remains clear.
Emily St. John Mandel
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... [a] restless, time-warping narrative that takes us farther from home—intellectually and geographically—than any of Ms. Mandel’s previous creations ever has. To a desolate place that is nonetheless intended to be humanity’s final refuge ... even the most ardent Mandel fan might well lose patience with—or even interest in—a drama that seems more like a dalliance at first, all peek-a-boo teases and insinuations ... if time can bend, we are prompted to wonder, might past events be altered? The fictional premise, while hardly original, is often fruitful ... The elements that distinguished Ms. Mandel’s previous fiction are certainly present here—the restrained compassion, the cockeyed humor, the trancelike beauty of an imagined world—but in a distilled form that, paradoxically, seems thin by comparison. Though there are still transcendent moments ... if \'mankind is a dream of a shadow,\' as Pindar wrote and Ms. Mandel might agree, then these characters at least can disappear into thin air without entirely vanishing.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalYou can see why Mr. Hamilton, a perceptive and subtly humorous writer, was tempted to animate a novel that depicts with irony and wry compassion the life of an inconsequential man, the only type of hero that really mattered to Roth ... a capacious hybrid—in parts a quest novel, a love story and a fictionalized biography ... comes to life in the past. Consequently, and perhaps inevitably, Roth’s story is far more affecting than the modern one it shadows: of Lena, her pallid American fiancé and her newfound Chechen refugee soul mate, each of whom seems at times to be more of a symbol than a character. The novel’s theme of history repeating itself is also somewhat clunkily expressed...But Mr. Hamilton’s keen eye—which lights equally on landscape and human eccentricity—and his benevolent wit, both so evident is his superb memoir The Speckled People, here deepen and humanize a commendably erudite and earnest novel.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... this exquisite miniature of a novel somehow defies the gravitational pull of its grim subject to hover in a quotidian, luminous present. Details materialize with preternatural clarity. The milky light of a winter afternoon, mist on a river, a woman opening an oven door, a child taking her father’s hand: We see these things and feel their lingering presence as we are drawn into the life of an unassuming man in an unremarkable place ... Ms. Keegan is a master of the seemingly casual brushstroke that on this small canvas illuminates a character or a history with piercing accuracy ... Ms. Keegan’s control never falters ... Rich in sly humor and wry compassion, the world encompassed by Small Things Like These is one traversed by generations of Irish writers, from Frank O’Connor and Mary Lavin, William Trevor and Edna O’Brien, to contemporary novelists such as Donal Ryan, Sebastian Barry and Colm Tóibín ... Ms. Keegan is leading us, then, down a well-worn path, yet one that we see, through Bill Furlong’s eyes, as though for the first time.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalEdwina’s wry outlook on her adopted country and her fellow expatriates is one of the novel’s chief delights ... Outwardly dull and ever watchful, Edwina is that irresistible protagonist, the overlooked woman on whom nothing is lost ... There is, however, no spiritual, let alone criminal, mystery here, although Edwina’s quest and the novel’s periodic flashbacks do create a satisfying atmosphere of suspense. What interests Ms. Chin—and what she so skillfully dramatizes—is rather the eternal conundrum of being a human among other humans and, more specifically, of being an immigrant at the mercy of a volatile host ... At such introspective moments—and there are many of them—Edge Case itself might have floundered and Edwina’s musings dissolved into inspirational cliché. But Ms. Chin for the most part steers clear of such hazards, wisely allowing her heroine’s simple story to remain simple, even as she expertly directs the shifting currents of emotion and of memory that sweep us along in this affecting novel.
PositiveThe Wall StreetHumor does...pervade Ha Jin’s fiction, and in particular this novel, but like the varied emotions he portrays, it is muted. In contrast to his contemporary Yu Hua, for instance, whose work is laced with comic obscenity and satirical excess, this author is a restrained, meticulous chronicler of precarious lives. Details of money and work, of illness and other misfortunes, are central to his narratives, each of which, however turbulent, proceeds with unhurried grace ... Tian, the defiant artist, stands for nothing less than freedom of conscience and artistic expression—he has, in that sense, no choice but to grow—and consequently risks becoming insubstantial as a character. Yet he holds our anxious attention, chiefly because the daily circumstances of his new life are documented with such scrupulous precision and his emotions described with such economical plainness that we are alert to each nuance, every shift.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalLike instruments in a string quartet, the scene’s syncopated dialogue and vivid description play off each other, seamlessly, rhythmically, as the narrative shifts back and forth, from the execution coverage to the puerile TV sitcoms, and from the sardonic comments of Simon’s parents to his own confused sense of things ... the prevailing tone in The Vixen is more lively than somber, for this is the story of Simon Putnam, a disarming narrator familiar from countless novels of youth and inexperience ... makes a detour into Gothic pastiche. The diversion is, however, mercifully brief ... a pleasingly intricate plot that hinges, inevitably, on lies and betrayal, both personal and political. There are spies here, and traitors. But in the richly textured place and time that Ms. Prose portrays with her usual skill, there are few clear distinctions.
RaveWall Street JournalTime and again in Mr. Galgut’s fiction, South Africa materializes, vast, astonishing, resonant. And on this vastness, he stages intimate dramas that have the force of ancient myth ... In such moments The Promise acquires a perilous grandeur that veers toward melodrama, but Mr. Galgut deploys these climactic scenes sparingly and to great effect, all the while keeping our anxious gaze fixed on characters linked by blood and chance whose final inheritance is a shared, contested land.
Banine, trans. by Anne Thompson-Ahmadova
RaveWall Street JournalA a memoir, first published in 1945 and now keenly translated from the French by Anne Thompson-Ahmadova, which spans the tumultuous period from the author’s birth to 1924. Reflecting an era of bloodshed and terror, it should be a grim read. Instead, however, this account is an effervescent and irreverent feat of recollection and imagination—epic in sweep yet intimate in tone—that introduces the reader to an exotic, antique world and to characters so vividly drawn that their raucous voices seem to echo long after they have vanished from sight ... Playfully mirroring Tolstoy, Banine could be ushering us into a capacious 19th-century novel. And in a way she is. For what follows is a captivating drama of family, money, marriage and disaster that unfolds with deceptive ease and irresistible charm, thanks to the agility of a narrator who is both innocent girl and ironic observer.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Bradford gives a vivid sense of those formative years, deftly compressing the baggier episodes, and he conveys with similar economy Highsmith’s early experiences in New York City ... Mr. Bradford’s consideration of her fiction is more methodical than it is perceptive...and he bewilderingly ignores other writers of the period such as Ross Macdonald, Kenneth Fearing and William Lindsay Gresham, whose novels also transcended, some of them magnificently, the noir crime category. In this comparatively slim volume, it is as though Highsmith has elbowed any likely competitors off the page ... Highsmith, that mistress of deception, seems to elude her latest biographer.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... in Big Girl, Small Town, an inventively foulmouthed gem of a novel, Michelle Gallen too defies gravity by portraying Majella’s insular community and her trammeled existence with such deadpan wit that sentimentality doesn’t stand a chance ... the novel fairly sizzles with such comebacks, perfectly mimicking the region’s profanity-rich patois (one that may indeed bewilder some readers and scandalize others) ... But Majella, our clear-eyed protagonist, is far more than a gifted wisecracker and Big Girl, Small Town a more shrewd depiction of provincial life than its flippant tone might suggest ... Neither crime nor killer, however, can dominate a novel that is, above all, an intimate portrait of a peculiar—and peculiarly resilient—woman who is fated to notice everything and forget nothing. With her specifically heightened awareness, Majella is a welcome addition to the diverse family of protagonists that includes young Christopher Boone in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Hesketh Lock in Liz Jensen’s The Uninvited and Keiko in Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, all of whom perceive reality through a similar lens ... unfolds in a series of alternating scenes, each one of which, along with some memorable detours, adds another layer to the subtly textured world that Ms. Gallen creates ... The novel’s repetitive rhythm, mirroring that of Majella’s life, is both soothing and stultifying ... The novel’s rudimentary plot is somewhat cursorily resolved, but that’s all right because it was never really the point. Ms. Gallen’s chief strength is her ear for dialogue, not her dramatic timing. Characters are revealed in their own words or in Majella’s laconic observations, but the resulting narrative, for all its eccentricity, never strays into farce or melodrama ... in this oddly affecting novel of everyday defeats, her triumph is more thrilling than any army’s victory.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... disarming ... Ms. Winspear is, above all, a forgiving chronicler. And the final scene in this affecting evocation of a vanished England and a resilient generation is an unashamedly tearful one.
Judith Schalansky, trans. By Jackie Smith
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis is the author at her most magisterial; her stately prose in this case mirroring a river’s unhurried course. (The translation from the German by Jackie Smith, here as throughout, is a triumph of subtle accuracy.) But Ms. Schalansky is also a wry, laconic and occasionally self-mocking explorer who gives the disarming impression of being astonished at times by her own conclusions ... covers broader terrain, a test of the author’s agility. Yet with only a few missteps, she alights on distant lives, eras, even planets, as nimbly as she did on those forsaken islands. Comparisons with the writings of W.G. Sebald are inescapable. But Ms. Schalansky, in her quirkiness, has just as much in common with the glorious eccentrics of the 18th and 19th centuries she encounters such as Gottfried Adolf Kinau (1814-88), who spent most of his life drawing detailed maps of the moon ... Ms. Schalansky leads the astonished reader on a zigzag course through the labyrinth of human consciousness to excavate what the philosopher Francis Bacon termed those \'remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time.\' If the result is inescapably an elegy of sorts—truly An Inventory of Losses—it is a curiously moving and oddly reassuring one.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... in the hands of a more conventional writer, the effect would be repellent. But throughout Ms. Wyld’s fiction, which transcends the category of either horror or crime, such visceral images, always sparingly employed, have a mesmerizing force that is instantly felt and eerily sustained. Whether the location is the Australian outback (“After the Fire, a Still Small Voice”), rural England and Australia or coastal Scotland, this author seizes her readers with the swift grace of the wild predators she often describes, then sets them down on terrain so richly imagined it seems to fill the senses ... an expertly layered, quietly suspenseful novel that alights now in the past, now in the present, to reveal—as delicately as that blowing sand might—a family’s most intimate secrets and crimes ... a graceful serpentine pattern woven by a consummately sly storyteller ... Some of the finest scenes in “The Bass Rock” are those that capture the mentality and manners of the English gentry ... Ms. Wyld stages a plot twist as inevitable as it is shocking, a maneuver at which she excels ... these lurid digressions, for all their potency, seem more symbolic than profound, unlike the modern homicide—a crime elliptically yet chillingly evoked—that explains the hideous suitcase found on the seashore in the opening scene ... an appropriately muted—and terrifying—conclusion to a fervent yet shrewdly restrained novel in which an evil left to our imagination is as shocking as an open wound.
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, trans. by Michele Hutchison
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... this childhood narrative of overwhelming grief, religious insanity, death and incest, cruelty and despair, is felt in the gut as much as it is in the heart. Some of its scenes, indeed, are almost unbearable: the mass slaughter of an infected dairy herd, for example, or a sexual assault involving farm equipment. Yet the novel’s power resides not in its ability to stun, but rather in the compressed grace of the author’s plain style—lucidly conveyed by the translator Michele Hutchison—which conjures up a hermetically sealed reality and an adolescent protagonist so believable and unguarded that from the outset we feel her closeness and fear for her safety ... a tale vibrating with tension and saturated with dread ... the novel never strays into fantasy. It remains rooted in the agricultural terrain of soil, seasons, crops and livestock, one the author knows intimately and depicts with pitiless accuracy ... an extraordinary feat of dark imagination that ends, fittingly, as we feared though never as we expected.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThere is none of the lushness, the sense of abandon, that saturated the Neapolitan quartet. Yet in The Lying Life of Adults, Ms. Ferrante once again, with undiminished skill and audacity, creates an emotional force field that has at its heart a young girl on the brink of womanhood ... in the world that Ms. Ferrante creates nothing is ever trivial, let alone meaningless. The fleeting expression on a face, the texture of a doll’s dress, the glint of a gold bracelet, such things make up the magpie nest we call memory. And in family stories—the stories Ms. Ferrante tells as few other writers can—cherished items acquire totemic power ... no character in The Lying Life of Adults, however incidental, is superfluous, just as no detail—of the outer or inner landscape—is cursory, but an essential fragment of the tight mosaic whose pattern holds us spellbound ... Only Ms. Ferrante knows what lies ahead for her new generation of formidable heroines. If we are lucky she may even let us know.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalSubtly drawn and intensely affecting, this portrayal of accidental friendship, enduring love, frustrated ambition and, dare we say it, the alchemy of acting, recalls, in its effortless grace, those 19th-century novels that made readers of us all. And Mr. O’Connor’s main characters—Stoker, Irving and the beloved actress Ellen Terry—are so forcefully brought to life that when, close to tears, you reach this drama’s final page, you will return to the beginning just to remain in their company ... a wonderfully variegated yet seamless narrative that takes us not only onto the Lyceum’s stage (Mr. O’Connor’s evocations here are splendid) but also into the consciousnesses of Stoker, Irving and, most beguilingly, Terry, whose voice, in an imagined phonographic recording, is clearest of all.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...Ivy Pochoda, in her flawless new novel These Women, has her own angle on the L.A. street, one not only low to the ground, as you might expect, and razor-sharp, but also trained on the women working the most dangerous beat of all ... These Women is at first glance a conventional murder mystery constructed on that sturdy old tripod of serial killer, murdered women and dogged female detective. But each of those elements is freshly minted here thanks to the psychological depth granted each character and the graceful twists of Ms. Pochoda’s cunning yet unfussy plot ... Essie Perry [is] surely one of crime fiction’s most memorable and convincing investigators ... every detail—of the criminal investigation and, equally riveting, of these characters’ lives—draws us deeper into the pulsing, restless city.
Emma Jane Unsworth
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe reader, too, may find Jenny’s online insecurities barely credible given her age. But her voice is so immediately engaging—and her perspective so zanily acute—that we overlook any incongruities ... But this oddly charming narrative is far more than a feast of one-liners. Ms. Unsworth’s satirical eye is more keenly focused here than in her previous two novels ... self-inflating targets such as mindfulness, artiness and new-manliness are sparingly deployed and exquisitely punctured while the overall mood is subtly textured and the central plot almost quaintly plain ... The novel’s deeper charm resides in its fleeting evocations of the past and of England’s flintier regions, sketches that in their deftness recall Alan Bennett’s portraits of his northern English birthplace ... in this sprightly novel introspection has met its match.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalLeaner and quieter than its antecedent, this sequel will please readers who found the earlier narrative exhaustingly rhapsodic, while admirers will welcome McNulty’s reappearance and the satisfying conclusion (perhaps) to his exploits ... It is, like most tragedies, a timeless drama of crime and retribution, enacted not on the battlefield this time but on a young woman’s body ... melodrama aside, A Thousand Moons is leavened with fewer adventures than Days Without End and more freighted with history and meaning. War’s aftershocks, Native American genocide, African-American slavery, not to mention gender fluidity: all of this Mr. Barry folds into Winona’s narrative with his customary skill. Yet past and present, which typically flow gracefully back and forth in Mr. Barry’s work, are somewhat awkwardly blended here ... Mr. Barry is at his best when he calls our attention to such details and resists the urge to soar. But in A Thousand Moons, as in his previous novel (though to a lesser degree), the vastness of the American territory seems to arouse a linguistic wildness that no Wicklow glen could ever inspire ... This novel of intermittent grace and unfailing compassion finally skids to a frantic denouement that leaves us hoping for Mr. Barry’s return, in coming works, to a smaller place and calmer times.
Magda Szabo trans. by Len Rix
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... a tense, intimate narrative that brilliantly depicts youthful innocence ensnared by lethal menace. (The fine translation is by Len Rix) ... for all its heartbreak, this deceptively simple novel in its atmosphere and setting is one of Szabó’s airiest. The winds of the Great Plain seem to agitate its pages, and Gina, crossing that expanse for the first time, senses a timeless landscape of \'water, earth and air\' ... [A] moment of vision, like so many in the novel, seems to shimmer on the page, as Szabó the magician reveals, for an instant, time, history and human folly, all glimpsed through a child’s clear eyes.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... the world of money...materializes in Ms. Mandel’s new novel, The Glass Hotel, as both familiar and profoundly strange ... The question of what is real—be it love, money, place or memory—has always been at the heart of Ms. Mandel’s fiction ... her narratives snake their way across treacherous, shifting terrain. Certainties are blurred, truth becomes malleable and in The Glass Hotel the con man thrives ... lyrical, hypnotic images—of a shoreline at dusk, for example, or a city street at dawn—suspend us in a kind of hallucinatory present where every detail is sharply defined yet queasily unreliable ... All of which is clever and, perhaps intentionally, alienating. For in this hall-of-mirrors novel, Ms. Mandel invites us to observe her characters from a distance even as we enter their lives, a feat she achieves with remarkable skill. And if the result is a sense not only of detachment but also of desolation, then maybe that’s the point.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journa...at times this rigorous writer, examining people who took their work but not themselves that seriously, risks sounding like a teacher confronting a class of unruly girls ... the terrain the book sets out to cover is so broad and so complex—nothing less than British society and private life through two world wars and beyond as reflected in these women’s careers and domestic partnerships—that there is little time for lighthearted diversions. Moreover, The Mutual Admiration Society is not just a group biography, that most unwieldy of forms; it is also, at first glance, a manifesto ... From youth to maturity, the writer and the woman emerge intermittently yet strikingly here, surrounded by remarkable friends, who might say of their work, as Sayers did of one of her creations, \'it is, in its small way, right.\'
PositiveBarnes and Noble...daring ... Readers familiar with the Iliad, whether charmed or peeved by Country, will surely admire Hughes’s dexterous grafting of the sordid present onto the fabled past. In the novel’s blistering opening scene, for example, he manages to conjure up the speech and landscape of rural Northern Ireland in pungent detail; to introduce characters as distinct from each other as they are close to their ancient counterparts; and to set in motion a plot already spring-loaded with betrayal ... part of the appeal of Country is indeed the recognition game that the reader plays not only with Hughes’s characters...but also with famous scenes such as the killing of Hektor ... Though some of those episodes, particularly towards the end of the novel, are a little strained ... But moments that verge on parody are rare in a novel that first seizes our attention with its theatrical boldness and then holds us captive...
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWith such playfully coiled sentences and sly conjunctions, Ms. Levy instantly reels us into Saul’s spacy consciousness. And for the course of this slim, oblique narrative, we remain ensnared in his thoughts, delighting in his dry perceptions ... The truth emerges incrementally as Ms. Levy, with exquisite precision, stitches in a clue here, another there, weaving together past and present—how we cannot see until she allows us to see—all the while suspending her characters in a preternaturally sharp present. Many scenes have the clarity of hallucination ... [a] distinctively intimate voice and elliptical perspective that quickly seduces and constantly surprises the reader. Her novels in particular are small masterworks of inlay, meticulously constructed. The Man Who Saw Everything is perhaps her cleverest. But cleverness for its own sake is clearly not what interests her. Being human does. That is mystery enough, she repeatedly proves, as she tantalizes us with connections and secrets that seem to hover at the edge of our vision. Few writers, for example, can summon sadness with such force ... These big ideas thud onto the page, like apples hitting the roof of that garden shed, but we hardly hear them. Deborah Levy makes us listen instead for the fragile rhythm of a breaking heart.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalA timeless plot ... Each character’s role, from victim to villain, seems as clear as the sunlight flooding those marble floors. Over time, however, sharp distinctions are blurred by a series of well-timed revelations and deftly placed subplots. Yet the novel’s focus on the Conroys’ main drama remains tight. The Dutch House is, as a result, one of Ms. Patchett’s most straightforward novels and one of her best, artfully paced, gently ironic, a feat of portraiture rather than melodrama ... As always, the author draws us close to her protagonists swiftly and gracefully ... the sense of intimacy created is immediate and enduring. This is Ms. Patchett’s great skill, and it transcends any setting ... far more than a parable of forgiveness, never mind its rhapsodic ending.
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis is Ms. Ogawa at her most fervent, preoccupied with what it means to be human; to imagine, to remember, to love ... the reader may wince a little ... declarations are undeniably clunky and their weight might have sunk a more conventional narrative. But in Ms. Ogawa’s cunningly structured and delicately layered novel, such passionate outbursts are sparingly deployed and oddly touching. Like splashes of color in a wintry landscape, they not only relieve the bleakness but also prove that something as fragile as emotion can resist annihilation ... Her measured, compressed sentences seem intended to tranquilize rather than excite. In complete control of the reader’s attention, she fixes it one moment on the hands of a corpse, or the texture of a flower, then the next on the ineffable, fleetingly grasped ... emerging from Ms. Ogawa’s latest creation feels like waking up to find an unsettling dream sliding just out of memory.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... may be the most oddly enticing novel you will read this year, no matter how you feel about ducks, baseball, evolution, the state of our planet or the fate of our run-amok species. Keenly satirical yet unashamedly tender, it both reels you in and sets you adrift, offshore in every sense ... the same deadpan wit and deft portraiture that elevated The From-Aways above the summer-reading throng is recognizable here. There is also the perennial theme of wayward adults seeking vanished parents, one that Ms. Hauser reinvigorates by exposing character and plot elliptically, in scenes that could stand alone as short stories and yet mysteriously coalesce, as memories do, to summon the indelible past ... In this eccentric portrait of dented hearts and wacko science, [Hauser\'s] aim is unerring.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] flawless new novel ... A seed of unease, planted early, grows stealthily. There will be an infidelity, a shameful public moment, a tragic death: muffled shocks that disturb but never disrupt the artfully constructed narrative as it shuttles back and forth between 1979 and the critical years of 1938 to 1943. The latter period and the heyday of British fascism have been well documented and dramatized, but Ms. Connolly’s portrait of Mosley and his followers, in their chumminess, seems freshly chilling ... Like the writers who have inspired her, most notably in this case Elizabeth Bowen, Ms. Connolly is too astute and compassionate a novelist to provide neat conclusions. And After the Party, her American debut, is too delicate a creation to curdle into sourness. The novel leaves us instead with the mysterious sense of having inhabited a time and a life whose emotional gravity holds us still.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review... coincidences act as slow-burning fuses throughout the novel ... Atkinson’s layered narrative proceeds elegantly and relentlessly, its intersecting viewpoints gliding over one another in a plot as elaborately sinuous as it is geometrically precise. You could, indeed, draw a map of all the intersections; but you won’t, because this story holds you too close ... Atkinson’s deadpan wit is sharp as ever here, as is her depiction of England, from its seaside esplanades to its human cesspits. Most remarkable of all, however, is her enduring ability to place us inside the consciousness of each character as she conducts us through their overlapping lives. Readers new to Atkinson, always to be envied, will be lured back by Big Sky to her earlier novels.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"... assured and captivating ... It is, unavoidably, a crowded narrative—the introductory list of characters stretches over three pages—but Ms. Hammad’s acute evocation of both place and personality ensures that we are never lost ... There may be one subplot too many in this roomy, billowing epic ... Like a passionate tour guide, Ms. Hammad wants us to see everything, even the invisible. And we do.\"
PositiveBarnes & Noble Review\"And Winslow, his portraiture skills keener than ever, makes each of these villains convincing and complex, even as he embroils them in a labyrinthine power struggle ... Each life is evoked with such immediacy and each episode infused with such tension that any one of these overlapping dramas could be a short story. Taken together, dexterously layered and shot through with action, they constitute a triumphant grand finale.\
RaveBarnes & Noble Review\"... ust twenty pages into Tim Johnston’s new novel The Current the reader too is swept away by the accelerating force of tragedy, expertly staged ... And now Johnston has combined suspense with substance to produce a relentless narrative in which a small town and quiet lives materialize with an intensity more often found in contemporary short story ... And with each turn Johnston adds depth not only to the dual mystery at the core of his plot but also to the lives of the characters at the heart of his novel ... With unhurried ease The Current carries us along...\
PositiveBarnes & Noble Review\"... [Glover] conjures up an extraordinary past so convincingly that its wonders – and its creatures – seem to stray off the page and into our present. With Handel, of course, leading the cast ... Glover, a renowned conductor and musical historian, sets this 18th century stage efficiently and alluringly. Here every detail — of business and of manners; of royalty and politics – enriches her portrait of a labyrinthine society while each insight illuminates the workings of genius ... Inevitably perhaps in such a tightly focused portrait, there are lacunae. Bach, Telemann and other contemporary composers are mentioned only in passing as are a handful of writers and artists. Handel’s friendships too are left largely unexplored and in this respect Glover is more methodical than nimble. With evocative flourishes, nonetheless, and with single-minded devotion, she follows her subject through four decades of miraculous invention until the light finally dims.\
Patrick Radden Keefe
PositiveBarnes & Noble Review\"Keefe’s juxtaposition – of Pearse’s romantic rhetoric and this hellish modern image, of myth and reality – is sharp and his intention clear. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland will be just that, true. But not clear and certainly not clean ... In alternating chapters, Keefe deftly evokes [the story\'s] interconnected lives, each one shaped by and ultimately shaping the violent history of a divided territory ... Keefe nimbly weaves in the tangled strands of the past but holds fast to his connecting thread, McConville ... There are indeed other omissions, some crucial, and in this respect Keefe at times risks trading substance for smoothness. Say Nothing is, consequently, the oddest of hybrids: a pleasingly even chronicle of terror, expertly paced, and as moving as it is horrifying.\
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"Heading home and in a final twist skirting danger, Tariq is one of Mr. Faulks’s most memorable charmers—his fiction abounds in them—and Paris Echo, for all its tragedy, one of his most buoyant novels, flawlessly paced and deftly constructed. Here this agile writer... moves gracefully back and forth between shadow and light, weaving together disparate stories but never too neatly.\
RaveThe Washington PostHousekeeping, the historian Adrian Tinniswood reminds us, has always been a vexing business. Never more so, perhaps, than in 17th-century England, what with dogs and servants urinating \'all over the place;\' house guests consuming \'twenty-four lobsters and 624 chickens\' in three days; scurvy and sweaty armpits at every turn...All of which and a great deal more — details of childbirth, for example, of laundry and latrines — are tastefully revealed in Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the British Royal Household, Tinniswood’s charmingly erudite tour through five centuries of, well, cosseting.
PositiveBarnes & Noble Review\"Whether describing a lethal standoff or a bloody visitation, Boyd holds us fast, fixing our gaze on details that are startlingly fresh even as he tells a story that we seem to know well ... [Brodie] does leave, this time forever, a fugitive of sorts covering his tracks in various European cities before alighting—the novel’s only stumble—in Trieste, where things become briefly silly...\
RaveThe Washington PostThe opening scene of Patrick deWitt’s French Exit is so perfectly staged that a curtain seems to rise on his elegant creation ... The reader too may be a little confused. This certainly does not seem like a Patrick deWitt novel ... What’s more, these characters belong in a Noel Coward play ... Within a few sentences, the comic brilliance that sparked deWitt’s earlier adventures ignites this \'tragedy of manners\' ... Wisecracks detonate throughout French Exit warding off sentimentality. Indeed, the novel is so mannered, so arch, that even intimate moments are barbed with slyly traded quips.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"...a brilliant, eccentric treat, the literary equivalent of being buttonholed by one of the most entertaining people you will ever meet ... The list of Margaret-linked names seems endless, but Mr. Brown is undaunted. Confronting this embarrassment of riches (and wonderfully embarrassing much of it is), he sidesteps tedium by presenting his subject in a variety of sketches—some real, some imagined, all inspired—to produce a faceted, even sympathetic, portrait of idleness incarnate and ego run amok ... Margaret barges her way through Mr. Brown’s pages while he keeps his ironic distance, a sharpshooter’s distance, picking off posers and toadies, the pompous and the vile.\
MixedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewAs always, historical facts underpin the novel and many of its characters are historical figures. Two of the vilest are Max Mertens, eventually convicted of war crimes against the Jews of Salonika but released after just eight months and Alois Brunner, an SS killer who evaded arrest and assassination into old age ... Kerr wisely anchors his plot to the past, the weight of which adds tension to a narrative that might otherwise flounder. Even then, Greeks Bearing Gifts often lacks the cohesive energy that galvanized the Berlin Noir Trilogy...and later Gunther novels ... Gunther still has his moments ... Kerr’s readers, for consolation, may instead consider a return to the beginning where we can get to know this flawed hero all over again.
RaveThe Washington Post[Renton\'s written portrait] no less than Sargent’s, is a triumph of observation, insight and erudition ... An elegant, restrained writer, she rarely comments. Consequently, her subjects seem to reveal themselves. Renton’s descriptions are as evocative as they are informative... Through Renton’s flawless lens, the reader sees them, too.
RaveThe Washington Post\"Warlight has the immediate allure of a dark fairy tale ... Warlight is a mosaic of such fragments, so cunningly assembled that the finished pattern seems as inevitable as it is harmonious. What must happen does happen in this elegiac thriller; we just can’t see it coming ... As the pattern emerges, Ondaatje imperceptibly tightens the narrative. Gradually, we see that no detail or character, however incidental, has been extraneous ... Like its more immediate predecessors—The Cat’s Table, in particular—Ondaatje’s new novel is leaner than The English Patient and its focus tighter, a searchlight’s focus ... In Warlight, all is illuminated, at first dimly then starkly, but always brilliantly.\
RaveBarns and NobleThe Radicals certainly ends on a soaring, rhapsodic note. But the novel is most satisfying when it doesn’t soar; when, for example, in Manhattan at nightfall a drunken Eli watches 'the mysterious switchboard of the opposite buildings activate, permutate, the lights blinking on and off, shifting, sending mysterious signals' or when a desperate Eli loiters outside Jen’s workplace, 'waiting with the manic, rattling feeling of a man who can see a giant countdown in the noonday sky.' This is McIlvain at his best, keeping his eye on the ball.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review[T]his portrait of Ardery in extremis is perhaps George’s finest, and with it she expertly tightens her novel’s inexorable grip ... The Punishment She Deserves, for example, may have one subplot too many, but the novel’s elegant structure is airtight, and no character, however tangential, seems extraneous ... As always, George’s cunning revelations are deftly staged.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Ms. Thompson’s is not, of course, the first excavation. There have been many previous portraits and studies of Christie, the most satisfying perhaps being Janet Morgan’s measured, conscientious biography, published in 1984. Where Ms. Morgan is restrained, however, Ms. Thompson is ardent and opinionated ... Stepping back more often to view Christie in this historical context would have been worthwhile. But Ms. Thompson’s is an avowedly intimate analysis. And of a subject who expertly deflected investigation.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"Forna is too subtle and knowing a writer to create a straightforward, let alone inspirational, narrative. The action here may revolve around Attila’s search in London for a relative’s runaway child — a pleasingly simple mystery — but the novel has a wider orbit ... Happiness is a meditation on grand themes: Love and death, man and nature, cruelty and mercy. But Forna folds this weighty matter into her buoyant creation with a sublimely delicate touch.\
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewA suspense thriller within a historical drama, Munich is one of Harris’s leanest and most dexterous novels. It is also a welcome return to the historical period that inspired, most memorably, the outstanding Fatherland (1992) ... Harris creates in a narrative that is, from the outset, both airtight and charged with menace; a menace heard before it is seen ... Hartmann is the conscience of Munich and Legat its innocent heart, but Harris is too subtle a portraitist to draw them, or the history they embody, in bold colors. Here the past bleeds into the present and those maimed by the last war will soon face the next.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Sel. and Ed. by Adam Sisman
RaveThe Barnes and Noble ReviewFermor had by then been traveling and writing for almost six decades, and the letters gathered here span seventy peripatetic years, from 1940 to 2010. By turns gossipy, lyrical, profound, and dazzling, they carry Fermor’s voice so clearly that we seem to hear him speaking as we read ...thanks to Sisman’s astute selection and fine introductory notes, the volume’s gradually darkening mood seems to mirror Fermor’s ultimate journey from youthful exuberance to aged decline ... Fermor’s true sleight-of-hand is his seemingly effortless ability to conjure up a place or person with astonishing clarity...while simultaneously revealing a world that is centuries deep. The breadth of his scholarship, so airily present and matched only by his curiosity, compresses time ...the writer and the man revealed in these letters is no Bertie Wooster-ish dilettante ... Fermor cannot be corralled, either by class or by place. Throughout his life, and throughout these letters, he strays.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review\"While the dozen or so essays here are illuminating — ranging from a eulogy for movie director John Schlesinger to introductions to various Bennett plays — it is Bennett’s daily preoccupations that hold us. The death of friends, the depredations of old age, the class system, pseudo-patriotism, doublespeak: all are illuminated in entries that carry Bennett’s voice — dry, measured, confiding — as he meanders from sandwich making to literary reflections and from present to past. His impeccable craft, as ever, is disguised as casualness … Whatever the mood or subject, the precision and restraint of Bennett’s language, its mildness, creates a sense of polite intimacy.\
Hans Fallada, trans. by Allan Blunden
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewA compressed epic of despair, venality, shame, and endurance, this 'strong book about a weak human being,' like most Fallada novels, mirrors its author’s travails ... The novel is driven by these surges of emotion, but Fallada keeps our gaze on everyday details, on petty betrayals and intimate crimes ... Fallada’s corrosive wit — used sparingly in this novel and to devastating effect — is oddly affecting. It draws us closer to these characters even as they surrender to the oblivion of morphine or to the macabre regimen of the sanatorium ... Life goes on, always, he concludes. But Fallada’s tightly constructed novel — a snug nesting doll of horror within horror — makes even that bland assertion seem foolish.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThis brooding tale opens innocently enough. ‘Two twists of smoke at a time of year too warm for cottage fires surprise us at first light,’ Walter observes. One comes from a strangers' encampment, the other from the village lord's dovecote, maliciously set alight. The fires will have dreadful consequences, but Crace lets the machinery of tragedy idle while he describes the nature of each … The novel's soaring drama remains rooted, however, in a landscape that is rhapsodically evoked.
John Le Carré
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewLe Carré has lost none of his sardonic wit. And his taut descriptions still exude menace and dread, particularly in the flashbacks that bring this novel to life ... The enduring appeal of his novels, however, lies not in their philosophy but in their exquisite density of character and place, the result of le Carré’s unrivalled ability to see: winter light after rain, snow on cobblestones, a traitor’s smile. And if A Legacy of Spies is thinner in this sense, the reader, unlike the spy, can always return to the past for pleasure.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewRoseanne appeared briefly, but crucially, in a previous Barry novel, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty. Now almost 100 years old and incarcerated in a dilapidated mental hospital in rural Ireland for almost seven decades, she is writing her story secretly, on stolen paper that she hides under a floorboard … She is surely telling the truth — as she knows it — and we are immediately drawn into her story, enthralled by wistful, lyrical reflections that carry darker intimations … The diffident Dr. Grene has his own secrets — an infidelity, an unhappy marriage — which leach into the notes he keeps of Roseanne’s case and which gradually reveal his life to be a more commonplace tragedy than hers. Both patient and doctor have, in a sense, grown old together.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewThis could be the setup for a Maeve Binchy or Anita Shreve novel, and it is no insult to Laird to say that he moves things along as expertly as any bestselling novelist would. In a few exquisite vignettes, he introduces his characters and conveys the essence of love or pain, often with a simple gesture ... In a domestic drama — and Modern Gods is at heart just that — shuttling back and forth between Ballyglass and Papua New Guinea is a risky maneuver. But Laird is an agile writer who effortlessly switches location and point of view without sacrificing the empathy we feel for each character ... But Laird is at his best on his home turf. A poet as well as a novelist, he has a well-tuned ear for the speech of his native place and a keen eye for Northern Ireland’s shifting light and brooding sky.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble Review[Stubbs'] pithily elegant style makes it relatively easy going, even for the general reader. There may be a few detours too many — into the thickets of diocesan enmities, for example – but Stubbs enlivens his diligent narrative with occasionally startling portraits and images ... No theory, certainly, can explain Swift — and at the end of this biography the reader may conclude that no one volume can contain him. There is simply too much there. The politics and religion (often interchangeable); the afflictions of the body, heart and mind; the enduring friendships with Alexander Pope, John Dryden (a distant cousin), John Gay, Richard Steele and Joseph Addison; the idea of England; the reality of Ireland. And all the words, even the last. For Swift, of course, wrote his own epitaph.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...[a] luminous first novel ... Familiar historical events are lifted out of known historical time and the reader, briefly wrong-footed, pays closer attention. Reza’s main characters, too, though vivid and substantial, seem timeless ... Like a sympathetic anthropologist, she delineates the emotions and responses of her characters as though inviting us to observe rather than empathize...Yet the compressed force of Reza’s language not only commands our attention but also creates a subtle, brooding suspense that intensifies as her narrative proceeds inexorably toward revolution ... For all the tumult that it portrays, however, The Gardens of Consolation is a serene epic that proceeds at a stately pace. In this translation from the French, (Reza was born in Tehran in 1965 but has lived in France since the age of seventeen), even the most brutal act is described with almost magisterial composure ... So rooted is Parisa Reza’s writing in the fertile soil of Iran that The Gardens of Consolation seems to contain an entire nation.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewFridlund keeps us in suspense not by widening the drama to create a serpentine whodunit but by tightening the narrative, restricting our vision to what Linda observes with her keen, clear eye ... Fridlund’s economical sentences have a lulling, seductive rhythm that she breaks at critical moments, employing a single image, like a trapdoor, to drop us into the void ... Leo is a memorably pathetic tyrant just as Linda’s 'inattentively industrious' mother is a wonderfully drawn New Age narcissist. But a frail child dominates this novel and his inevitable disappearance loosens both its suspense and its emotional hold. Linda’s adult life, though sharply drawn in alternating vignettes, seems oddly formless, which may be the point – she is adrift in the world – and her character loses coherence when she leaves Still Lake. Palpable to the final scene, however, is the 'low rumble of fear' that Fridlund mercilessly sustains.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewCool and laconic, echoing vintage Elmore Leonard, the early scenes in Patrick Hoffman’s new novel, Every Man a Menace, radiate tension ... Hoffman is an infernally clever writer...Yet Hoffman’s puzzles are more human than mechanical. His characters are too complex and his scenes too immediate and engrossing to be diminished by intrigue.
MixedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewLions is a ghost-ridden place set down on ancient, blood-soaked terrain. Nadzam describes it, however, with such cinematic clarity that each element, whether real or spectral, seems tangible: the brooding stranger at the door, the diner sandwich on the grill ... As the atmosphere thickens with a few portents too many, Nadzam wisely shifts our attention to restless Leigh Ransom, a lively spark in the gloom and the novel’s most substantial character ... In this evocative yet frustrating novel, the reader too is left searching for the meaning of it all.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewCline, avoiding the snares of nostalgia or titillation, conjures up a time and place that shimmers newly before us, dreamlike yet immediate...We have been here before in fiction. T. C. Boyle’s 2003 novel Drop City, for instance, brilliantly depicted the foulness and chicanery infecting the California sixties scene. And Cline does the same, but with compressed intensity rather than operatic flair.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewChildhood, first love, three marriages, children. The Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, Stalinism. With cerebral precision, Barnes depicts a life encased by history and defined, from the outset, by music...For all its turmoil, however, Barnes’s novel remains a quiet meditation.
MixedThe Barnes and Noble ReviewLee's Brighton chapters display both his comic agility and his keen eye for the mundane yet theatrical details that preoccupy Moose Finch. As the prime minister’s visit looms, the draping of a towel or the angle of a pillow becomes as critical to Finch as the splicing of a wire or the placing of a detonator is to Dan. The synchronicity is oddly unnerving. The novel’s Belfast scenes, by contrast, seem like set pieces – the riot, the police raid, the arson attack — and Lee has drawn criticism for getting some important details wrong.
RaveThe Boston Globe...[a] near-flawless satire of middle-class America. Like John Updike, Evan Connell, Jane Gardam, and other masters of understatement, Berne draws us into the everyday life of an unremarkable place yet maintains an ironic perspective, her keen eye and her laconic wit missing nothing and sparing nobody.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewIn its breadth and sweep, Ferrante’s series has also been compared to the work of Balzac and Dickens. But her affinity with such writers is most evident in the depth of Ferrante’s psychological insight; the creation of interior lives so vivid that we seem to breathe along with her characters, from moment to moment.