RaveThe Times (UK)It takes considerable skill in the writing of historical fiction to make the reader share the characters’ sense of oppressive uncertainty about the future. S J Parris’s series about the sleuth, spy and renegade monk, Giordano Bruno, recreates the atmosphere of Queen Elizabeth I’s England in all its vivid paranoia ... Throw in some old enemies, a beautiful widow and a mysterious manuscript which may be a lost gospel and this is a book to make you long for filthy weather, a deep armchair and a thick blanket ... There are echoes of C J Sansom’s Shardlake series here. But Parris is better than the usual run of imitators. Her prose is taut and compelling. Her wielding of the historical material is always convincing but never overwhelming ... The real strength of the series is its protagonist. Witty, brilliant, bookish Bruno is a delight of a narrator. His relationship with his friend Sir Philip is deftly drawn; full of light and shade ... If, after reading these enthralling, thrilling books you want to find out how it ends for the real Bruno, do not be tempted to Google him. You will be too fond of Parris’s creation to bear the end of the story. Let the fictional Bruno sleuth on for many more instalments, ferreting out papists and chasing rare books.
Willem Anker, Trans. by Michiel Heyns
RaveThe Times (UK)...a sensational novel ... Anker writes like a talented demon ... Coenraad is detestable. He is vile to the women in his life. He kills his best friend. He relishes violence. He is without remorse. But he leaps with incredible vivacity from the page. You won’t like him, but you won’t forget him quickly either.
PositiveThe TimesThere is lots to love in this impressive debut. Sara Collins is interesting on race and power. Frannie is an unforgettable character with a delicious, wicked turn of phrase ... a self-conscious homage to Moll Flanders and Jane Eyre, with lots of gothic tropes thrown in. The plot is a bit of a muddle as a result. Collins is a star in the making; I would love to see her find a story as dazzlingly original as her voice.
MixedThe Times UKIn 1797 a young female painter called Ann Jemima Provis claimed she possessed a secret manuscript that revealed the long-lost secrets of the Venetian painters. How did Titian and his peers achieve their mastery of colour? Provis demonstrated her technique — supposedly based on the lost manuscript — to Benjamin West, the president of the Royal Academy ... As cultural history this is utterly absorbing, but as a novel The Optickal Illusion suffers from Halliburton’s tendency to fill her characters’ dialogue with heavy-handed exposition. That aside, this is an assured and enjoyable debut that asks some uncomfortable questions about women’s erasure from the history of art.
Walter Kempowski, Trans. by Anthea Bell
RaveThe Times UK\"All for Nothing was widely acclaimed in Germany on its publication in 2006 and its English translation deserves a wide audience. With restraint and subtlety, Kempowski explores the ordinariness of complicity with evil. The characters’ bewildered responses to events are sometimes painfully honest. This book was written long before the current migrant crisis; but, Janus-faced, its descriptions of the mass migration of Germans across their own country is heartbreaking and illuminating. My book of the month.\