PositiveThe Guardian (UK)The Silence is just over a hundred pages long, so it is not as commodious a novel as Underworld, and not as funny as White Noise. Many of the same themes recur in a pared-down form, the novel illuminating the previous work with an intense, narrow beam. Sporting masculinity, educators, other languages, systems, paranoias, what is remembered and what is forgotten, the mass mind; these are presented, not in a fritz of interconnectivity but as mimicry, emptiness and, finally, silence. Nobody speaks the way the characters in this novel do, nor are we asked to believe they would. They are, however, compelling and human, and their voices have a ritualised urgency. DeLillo is a master stylist, and not a word goes to waste. This is the novel as performance art, as expressionistic play. The Silence is like watching Melancholia by Lars von Trier or an opera by Philip Glass—it always feels \'foreign.\' There is also something of the mid-1980s distilled and transported here: something rapt and male, full of longing for the machine and for the end of days.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)... a very exciting conceit; the only pity is that Hillary’s life feels more dull as a result ... Sittenfeld teases apart the strands of fate and weaves them together in a slightly altered pattern, but she does not change the personality of the actors, nor can she change society itself. Misogyny is a constant in this fictional Hillary’s life, too, though the men who incite it are crucially different. All through her journey, the book holds a certain dream intact – that, without Bill, our heroine might have become her proper self ... The problem is that this \'more true\' Hillary, as voiced in the book, is not as interesting as the challenged, proud and private human being we wonder about when we see her on our television screens...She thinks like a law professor, and this feels appropriate, though it dampens everything down, somehow. The law is a discourse where passion gets turned into procedure, where things are regularised and made known. This tendency is there from the very beginning. When she and Bill go on their first date, as students at Yale, their reported conversation sounds like a job interview for future greatness ... there is none of the joyous specificity that made American Wife such a surprising book ... a wonderful, sad dream of what might have been – it contains so much yearning and so many regrets. It is impossible not to sympathise with the project, while still insisting that the best novels are about difficulty, compromise and moral hazard. American Wife was a real novel. Rodham is a political fiction, which is something else.
PositiveNew York Review of Books... though there is much discussion about morality and desire in this book, it asks no radical question about why women in particular should feel beholden to people who like them, love them, or desire them ... for a book that deals in the paradoxes of desire, very little is described below the waist ... It is hard to know if these stories are chosen to illustrate some essential or unsayable truth of female sexuality ... Popkey understands the intimate and seductive purposes of self-disclosure. She is alert to the moment when story turns into self-enclosure, or narcissistic display. She also knows how competitive all that can get ... The voice, so light and elusive, performs one paradox after another, until paralysis becomes the natural and desired solution ... It is almost unfair to unravel Popkey’s light and winding arguments about love and desire, turning, as they do, on various elegant reversals, except to point out that the problem is always her narrator’s problem, and no matter where she tries to go, she always lands back at her own doorstep ... [The narrator is] good company, able to turn a good sentence and to maintain a tone, which is to say a distance, from the life described.
Ariana Harwicz, Trans. by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe plunge into chaos and libidinal disaster in Ariana Harwicz’s debut novel, Die, My Love, threatens to undo the possibility of story altogether ... Her jagged syntax makes her work very different from much of contemporary American fiction, especially that which privileges a controlled style. Obscenity is a tic that is always ready to ambush her thoughts ... Characters are permeable, scenes fragment. There is no stable surface to give the narrator of Die, My Love respite ... Die, My Love is impressive for the force of the narrator’s insatiable rage, which fragments the boundaries of the self. There can be no control over the story, or even over the language in which it is told. The book cannot serve as an aesthetic object when the sense of surface constantly gives way.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Atwood reclaims the right to consider such difficulties rather than simply imagine them. She is interested not in how people become degraded, as objects (that is so easily done), but how they became morally compromised ... The first book was good on the envy between women, when they have no power; The Testaments looks at collaboration – another vice of the oppressed ... You might call this interleaving of book and reader postmodern, but there is more here than a posh writer’s punning. Gilead, the fiction, is a kind of overgrown child. Atwood has taken it by the hand and made an open, free-running story, one that remains, as ever, deeply informed. In writing The Testaments, she also reclaims its world from all the people who think they own it now: the writers of fanfiction and the television producers (she told them they could not kill Lydia, apparently). A story that feels universal is, actually, hers: she gets to decide ... Perhaps no other writer has managed her own phenomenon with so much grace and skill. The Testaments is Atwood at her best, in its mixture of generosity, insight and control. The prose is adroit, direct, beautifully turned ... To read this book is to feel the world turning, as the unforeseeable shifts of the last few years reveal the same old themes. It is also a chance to see your own political life flash in front of your eyes, to remember how the world was 30 years ago and say: \'If she was right in 1985, she is more right today.\'
RaveThe Irish Times (UK)... is, in some sense, a book O’Brien has earned through all the books that came before. In it, the freshness of her prose is met by the innocence of her narrator and the freedom of her language by the chaos of the events it describes. O’Brien has hit the sweet spot where story and style agree. The life she imagines and presents to the reader is one of unimaginable horror and she does not shy away ... The action is urgent and the pace swift ... There are few writers more capable of describing what it is to be repeatedly raped than O’Brien ... though it seems as though the events she relates are too catastrophic to leave room for emotion, O’Brien manages the emotional effects almost invisibly well ... The descriptions of camps and convents are so immediate and deftly sketched as to come straight from O’Brien’s own observations, but they also manage to seem unfiltered by her western adult gaze. O’Brien puts all her might into seeing through her character’s young eyes, and this involves forgetting much that she herself knows ... The triumph of the book is in the voice of the narrator, who is just as articulate as she might be. The book has a huge storyteller’s energy and O’Brien does not patronise – she really has entered the heart of this girl ... But the prose is also pared down (for O’Brien) and this makes the story feel universal, as though she has arrived at some essence of what it is to be vulnerable, female and young ... Her language is so present in the moment – perhaps even overwhelmed by the moment – as to undo the workings of cause and effect. Rupture is a constant possibility. O’Brien is not afraid of convulsion, of cataclysm. In Girl, she rips the fabric of her characters’ life, as war and migration do to the lives of people every day. And ripping it up is something O’Brien is good at: she does it in order to make things new ... In this harrowing, swift tale, she has found the right task for her talent, at just the right time.
RaveThe GuardianO\'Brien, in her 80s, may look like an icon and talk like an icon, but she writes like the thing itself, with prose that is scrupulous and lyrical, beautiful and exact ... The childhood section of Country Girl is littered with objects that were lost, or stolen, or given away, all of them remembered with great particularity ... O\'Brien knows the precise emotional weight of objects, their seeming hopefulness and their actual indifference to those who seek to be consoled. She is in thrall to artifice, the way it holds desire.
RaveIrish TimesAfter the success of Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney has produced a second novel, Normal People which will be just as successful as it deserves to be: it is superb.
RaveThe GuardianLove, loss and the missed connections of family life are restlessly observed in this profoundly playful collection ... Catherine Lacey’s stories are bark-out-loud funny in a way that makes the reader feel a little odd ... They are all, however, driven by an expressive energy, by uncontainable personality, wit and the restless need, in the plots as in the sentences, to get the hell away ... In its high modernist mode, Lacey’s work can be unashamedly self-conscious ... Lacey is for readers who liked Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth as children. The prose is full of mathematical pleasures. There are mirrors and lists; events fold on top of one another like origami ... it shows the ability of language to create a different kind of reality ... Although Lacey’s work can be sad, it is rarely monotone, never earnest. Her stories are profoundly playful and piercingly good.
PositiveThe Guardian\"The Rub of Time is Amis at his considered best, witty, erudite and unafraid. You can sit and be like Martin Amis all day, wondering how he could be so right about the Republican party in 2011, so prescient about Trump as early as May 2016. The hierarchy thing, that need to revere older writers, may be a little bit male for some, but male is the way that Amis rolls, which makes him one of the best people on the planet to write about the porn industry (a chivalrous piece, as it happens). He is sweetly sentimental when it comes to the British royal family (why?), funny about tennis, always brilliant about the body, scorching in his refusal of death, its sorrows and humiliations ... Amis is always begging for interruption and fending it off at the same time, busking his way to the best bit, fighting with shadows to snatch the prize ... Amis is fantastic company until he isn’t. The drop can sometimes be severe, though never so steep as with his friend Christopher Hitchens, another writer who makes the reader feel smart, energised, enlarged, or does until he says something stupid in a really clever way ... I will, like many of his readers, grow old in a different direction. Still, this collection is full of treasures. And, if you want a good scrap, if you want to feel like Martin Amis while fighting with Martin Amis (which is possibly how he also spends his day), a couple of these pieces will keep you going for a long time.\
Edward St. Aubyn
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThere is enough here, you might think, for any comic novel — but though the book ends climactically with the award ceremony in the Fishmongers’ Hall, much of it is taken up with a contrary narrative … The chapters about Katherine and her three current lovers have very little to do with the prize, but they are the most psychologically urgent of the novel. In them, St. Aubyn’s discursive prose ranges over the subjects of depression, promiscuity, nervous collapse and unrequited love with an ease and insight that are thrilling … Everything St. Aubyn writes is worth reading for the cleansing rancor of his intelligence and the fierce elegance of his prose — but rollicking, he is not. A knockabout comic novel needs a plot that believes in its own twists and turns, and that is not on offer here.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewCaldwell — the housing project where the characters were raised — is the only fictional place on a very real map … Though it remains absolutely rooted, stuck to the map, contexts change and narrative styles shift. This is a book in which you never know how things will come together or what will happen next … Smith’s previous novels have been exuberantly plotted, and were resolved in a highly ‘novelistic’ way. This book is much more tentative and touching in its conclusions … NW represents a deliberate undoing; an unpacking of Smith’s abundant narrative gifts to find a deeper truth, audacious and painful as that truth may be.