PositiveThe IndependentAround half of the book retraces familiar ground and may be more shocking for those who happened to miss the great stir that her bold debut caused in 1985. For the initiated, it remains compelling, in fact, perhaps more so when compared to the fictionalised version written by Winterson as a 25-year-old. Then, passion and anger seemed to burn off the page ... It is when we move past her early years in Lancashire to Winterson\'s depression, her attempt at suicide, and her journey to track down her biological mother, that the life story becomes less familiar, and most moving ... If the memoir was begun as a final exorcism of the monster mother, it ends with a moving acceptance of her.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)...[a] profound, imaginative and devastating book ... Dramatically, it is horrifying and mesmerising in equal measure, both in its depth of inquiry and its detail ... The Apology is a complicated act of ventriloquism and Eve’s anger sometimes glints within [Arthur\'s] words. At one point, she sounds like a modern-day Circe, vanquishing the spectre of this abusive father by turning him into a small, scuttling creature, her contempt for him forced out of his mouth as self-loathing ... This book, in the end, is an act of imaginative empathy that seeks to understand the monster father and turn him into the human one, and also its own form of literary retribution that calls out his crimes. Can creative exhumation of this kind really free an abused adult from a lifetime of childhood suffering? Ensler’s book does not – cannot – provide a definitive answer but there is a moving power and poetry to the prose that rouses Arthur from his grave and holds him to account.
RaveThe Guardian...[a] beautiful and desolate collection ... They distil many of her recurring concerns – immigrant loneliness, complicated romance and a portrayal of the Islamic faith that goes far beyond the cliched narrative – but without ever becoming trite ... An intimacy is created between couples, siblings, mothers and daughters that immediately pulls the reader into their lives ... Aboulela builds up the emotional drama here with such mastery ... There is so much quiet brilliance to this story and others that it is a surprise for those who have only followed Aboulela’s long-form fiction to discover she has just as much mastery of the short form.
PositiveThe IndependentJames, a Jamaican writer whose historical tale of slavery is told through Lilith\'s internal patois...manages to weave a narrative that sounds neither derivative nor contrived, for the most part. Using Lilith\'s distinctive voice, he manages to make the story of slavery in the Americas, repeatedly recounted in fiction, new. Lilith\'s narration is one of the novel\'s strongest features, written in the vernacular and carrying its own drum-like rhythm which is as lyrical as it is hypnotic, even in the most violent passages ... James uses the imagery of witchcraft and African shamanism inventively, as a metaphor for political resistance ... In the end, the book is not just about the institutionalized hatred inherent in slavery but also a love story, with an inevitably tragic outcome.
RaveThe IndependentThe opening scene is filmic in its lean, vivid description ... in John Crow\'s Devil, every act of violence appears mythic, not-quite-real in a not-quite-real town, so it loses the sting of The Book of Night Women, where the violence relates to the realities of the slave trade, or James\'s A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), where the violence relates to 1970s gangland Jamaica. In these two subsequent books, violence serves to horrify and shock. Here it occupies a different space, where it is spectacle, both for the villagers, and for readers. Its filmic quality is so strong that images rise off the page ... John Crow\'s Devil is undoubtedly breathtaking for its imagination and its storytelling ... One of the strongest ideas of this novel comes in its blurring of good and evil. The two are never quite distinct[.]
William Melvin Kelley
RaveThe GuardianA Different Drummer more than lives up to the hype, both in terms of its literary accomplishment and in the power of its political vision ... here we see an America that holds fast to its moral superiority over black people ... Yet for all of Kelley’s sympathetic characterization, his ending returns us to the horrors of race hate ... Today the book offers us an unflinching study of the southern white American psyche at the cusp of the civil rights movement: its belligerence against change, the incomprehension and anger. It is woeful to think that almost 60 years later, Kelley’s story seems just as timely and as urgent, but what a gift to literature that we have rediscovered it.
George Saunders, Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
RaveFinancial Times\"In Fox 8, Saunders’ climate message is... bluntly stated; what elevates it is a linguistic innovation that brings adult playfulness and archness to the storytelling ... [Saunders\'] narrative is a beguiling jumble of bad grammar and phonetic spellings (\'Par King\' for parking; \'mawl\' for mall), and his tone alternates from childlike naivety to sly adult knowing ... This mash-up of language is beguiling and gives the book a doubleness that tempers the simple didacticism of Saunders’ message ... Fox 8 has an undeniable charm and its artwork, by Chelsea Cardinal, beautifully reflects the subject matter with its clean-lined, woodcut quality. And Saunders typically builds a mountain of emotion out of a few pages so that the central tragedy — Fox 7’s death — is truly affecting ... If Serota is right and art can inspire activism, Fox 8 is not just a handsome little stocking-filler but can help to transform the world in its own small, beautiful way.\
PositiveThe Financial TimesThe greater hauntings in this book come from these earthbound stories rather than its supernatural elements. The human drama contains legacies of historical trauma, guilt and shame and Perry’s writing is at its best when she is describing it ... her vivid study of pain through the character of Rosa carries a great and awful power and she is one of the most haunting figures in the book ... In contrast, Perry’s descriptions of Melmoth have a breathless, hallucinatory quality to them that appear arch, almost overblown, and do not spark visceral fear in the reader ... Even if it does not inspire chills, Melmoth is filled with thought-provoking ideas on historical guilt and personal responsibility, as well as a depth of learning ... the message at its heart is an uplifting one; even if redemption for wrongdoing cannot always be achieved, there is power in bearing witness to suffering and in resisting against total, black despair.
MixedThe GuardianThe Occasional Virgin, which features two friends who fled the conflict in Lebanon 20 years previously. Huda is a Muslim and lives in Canada; Yvonne, who lives in London, is Christian. Both are independent and successful, but grew up in households weighted in favour of men, with difficult mothers to contend with, and this past comes in flashbacks after they meet for a holiday on the Italian coast. They are also single, and it is clear that they are sexual adventurers on this trip abroad: Yvonne flirts aggressively with an Italian student while Huda goes on a date with a gardener ... The novel shows some early promise – a discussion of their displacement from Lebanon is illuminating, and contrasts are set up between the friends’ faiths - but sadly this is not explored with any degree of depth. Instead, indirect inner monologues create flat and binary characters.
RaveThe Guardian\"If Ordinary People is about compromise, it is also about how we live today and, refreshingly, Evans shows this through the prism of black and mixed-race identities, conjuring an urban milieu that is middle-class and non-white ... the soap-opera trajectory of Evans’s Ordinary People has a movie quality. It could easily be reimagined for the screen, though the film would not capture the sheer energy and effervescence of Evans’s funny, sad, magnificent prose.\
PositiveFinancial TimesNot all of the stories are successful. The brevity of some (the shortest is just half a page long) gives the book a stop-start feel, while some characters appear totemic or barely coloured in ... A series of stories about the negative stereotyping of Haitians in the American media read like political diatribes thinly disguised as fiction. Yet the collection creates an emotional momentum that overrides the failings of individual stories ... Both heterosexual and same-sex love contain mutual satisfaction and Gay has an exceptional talent for describing a pure and joyous passion that shines bright, even against the darkness of the collection’s violence.
RaveThe GuardianThis is a slim novel, yet Chariandy manages to encompass a world with astonishing detail and feeling inside it ... Especially astute is Chariandy’s depiction of the hostile white gaze: the police officers in Brother look upon all black men as potential suspects and treat them as such. This aspect of the book feels urgent given the Black Lives Matter movement ... It took Chariandy a decade to write Brother, and it is a breathtaking achievement. It is a compulsive, brutal and flawless novel that is full of accomplished storytelling with not a word spare. It is not just about a particular place or poverty or institutional racism, but about the ardour of brotherly love and the loneliness of grief.
MixedThe GuardianThe crime detection is mixed in with the social satire of modern family life and middle-class motherhood ... It is a courageous attempt at generic hybridity on Healey’s part and the two elements of the book are, by turns, intriguing and entertaining. But blended together the effect is odd and inconsistent, veering from Jen’s gothic fantasies of what might have happened to Lana, to flipness of tone and comic dialogue ... The satire is the stronger component of the two: Healey’s middle-class family is drawn with canny-eyed clarity ... The most compelling aspect of the novel, though, is the painful pathos in Jen and Lana’s relationship ... In the end, it is this interpersonal drama and not the clever narrative tics that Healey employs, nor the generic innovation, that gives the novel its heart.
MixedThe Financial TimesShafak presents so many of the current, clashing arguments on the place of women in Islam through their long, heated debates that she also runs the risk of turning these characters into vehicles for thought rather than living, breathing people ... Shafak excels at satirising contemporary Istanbul’s spoilt, self-satisfied bourgeoisie. The tone of these chapters is blackly comic and highly entertaining ... Yet Azur’s charisma eludes the reader and he seems like a cardboard cut-out of the controversial genius ... Both narratives eventually take on their own urgencies but too much happens too late ... Despite these dissonances, Three Daughters of Eve is an intelligent, fierce and beguiling read that makes complicated theological questions readable and relevant.
RaveThe Financial TimesLouise Erdrich’s 16th novel follows its own, carefully imagined rules but also obliquely refers to the state of America today … Erdrich’s narrative is not derivative or pulpy but its scenes are fast, visual, action-packed, perfect for film. And Cedar, like Sarah, is angry, fugitive, both powerless and brave, and ultimately a hero-mother in this chilling book, which is at once a dystopia and a state-of-the-nation novel.
PositiveThe Financial Times\"While some in this collection of 17 stories are less successful than others, he gains his stride and writes for a certain audience — the kind who might turn up to see his films — about family, failed romances and life’s foibles, with a few futuristic fantasies thrown in. He has particular aptitude for writing dialogue, perhaps unsurprisingly, and a wry turn of phrase that blooms at times into rollicking repartee … It is clear that Hanks is aiming for entertainment and whimsy over any attempt at high literary style. And on those terms, these stories are a hit.\
PositiveThe Financial Times...in The Golden House, his 14th, unruly but exuberant novel, Rushdie recasts his subject in contemporary America ... Like Midnight’s Children, The Golden House is divided into three books, beginning with Obama-era optimism and ending with the election of a man never named as Trump but referred to as 'the Joker' ... This book has a glut of stories, sub-stories, parenthetical riffs, mini-treatises and references within references to politics, etymology, film history, literature, popular culture ...begins a meta-narrative that becomes increasingly strained and is the one great irritation of the novel... Much of the success of The Golden House, in fact, lies in its humour and in the vigour of its storytelling.
RaveThe GuardianThe Wilkinsons’ liberal do-good impulses are not openly mocked, but they are critiqued by Ko. Their hope – well meaning but condescending – is to rehabilitate 'Daniel' into middle-class life ... The Leavers has won praise in the US, and its underlying themes of displacement and deportation carry deep and desperately urgent resonances far beyond America, and fiction. Ko movingly captures Polly and Deming’s liminal presence in the immigrant community, on the margins of society in overcrowded apartments, in nail parlours and factories, who are always there yet invisible to the rest of us.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen
PositiveThe Financial TimesMurakami writes of complex things with his usual beguiling simplicity — the same seeming naivety found in the Beatles songs that are so often his reference points. The stories read like dirges for 'all the lonely people' but they are strangely invigorating to read. The only straightforwardly happy story is an imaginative inversion of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in which a beetle-like insect wakes up, turned into a man...It is Murakami at his whimsical, romantic best, and however beautifully rendered the loneliness in the rest of the collection, one wishes, in the end, for a little bit more of this.
Min Jin Lee
PositiveThe Financial TimesThe story that follows is a deeply wrenching one of migration, circling around themes of in-between identities, belonging and acceptance. The latter is never granted for Sunja’s family: the Korean in Japan remains a perpetual outsider in Pachinko ... We never feel history being spoon-fed to us: it is wholly absorbed into character and story, which is no mean feat for a novel covering almost a century of history ... Pachinko tells many people’s stories and deftly brings its large ensemble of characters alive. Occasionally the plot is jarred by too-neat twists, such as the convenient return of Sunja’s lover, announced on the same page as the death of her husband. The biggest off-note, though, is Lee’s treatment of Noa, who is abruptly discarded in a sudden death, his children’s stories left dangling.
RaveThe Financial TimesIt sets out to unsettle the reader with this purpose from the very first page. The effect is both awful and spectacular. Its achievement is all the greater as the author of this markedly mature debut is just 28 years old ... Like Ian McEwan in On Chesil Beach, Arudpragasam brings genuine pathos to the couple’s failure to connect, and he is just as good at writing about bad sex as McEwan ... a strange, profound, mini-masterpiece of a novel. Arudpragasam writes with control, clarity and a terrible beauty that acknowledges the world’s grandeur in the midst of darkness.
MixedThe Financial TimesAnam comes at history — big and small — from several directions, but these jostling elements create a sprawling, scattered effect, however adept Anam is at bringing them to a final, tidy close. The love story at its centre is not entirely convincing, either ... The novel comes most alive as a domestic story, raising questions around family and belonging.