RaveThe Guardian (UK)... glacially beautiful ... I am almost certain it’s a ghost story, but it’s a novel that gives up its secrets warily ... I believe this novel will mean profoundly different things to different readers, because its own presiding spirit is surely Elizabeth Bishop, who worked so carefully at keeping feeling unspoken under the surface of her poetry, only revealing the heart through the physical world: she understood that emotion would shine out through detail, through specific, close observation. As if in tribute, Baume offers up an astonishing prose poem that keeps close religiously and lovingly to the physical throughout ... Bell, the female character, has a habit of \'touching things to draw blessedness out of them\', and this is absolutely what Baume is doing throughout ... haunting and dreamlike and wonderful to read ... powerfully recalls the middle act of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, that heart-stoppingly moving depiction of time passing through an empty house, of loss accumulating ... At the novel’s end, Baume finally sends her protagonists up the mountain they live on, a climb they’ve been meaning to get round to for seven years. Looking back at their house with them, I felt I was given a revelation of what had been going on all this time – but what I saw will be very different from how the story looks in the eyes of others. That is the magic and the brilliance of this haunting, fathomlessly sad book.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)[MacLeod\'s] focus shifts elegantly, imagining Lawrence as he nurtures ideas in sequences rich with poetic memory, then recounting the trial with journalistic rigour. Here she is aware of the vantage point she writes from – when EM Forster enters, \'he nods to us as he crosses the threshold of the court, the only person yet to notice. He is a novelist of rank, and he senses the eyes of posterity.\' The novel ends with a deeply moving imagined sequence, an afterlife of happiness for Constance and Mellors that is beautiful and unexpected. These shifts seem effortless because MacLeod’s subject sits above them all, uniting threads – the story of how a story made its way into the world. It’s a brilliant insight to build a novel on, all of us knowing the book will triumph and willing it towards us. It makes for a propulsive, addictive, joyous read ... The only questionable leap is MacLeod’s decision to counterpoint the history of Lady Chatterley with a story about Jacqueline Kennedy during her husband’s presidential campaign, and the tribulations of the FBI agent who covertly photographs her attending a similar \'Chatterley trial\' in the US. This sequence, it should be noted, is masterfully achieved, chronicling FBI director J Edgar Hoover’s efforts to keep the book from the world, and full of deep resonances with the story unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic. But it never really impacts on the journey of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and seems somehow separate, useful for rhythmic variation but distinct from the rest ... There is much to love in this novel, because MacLeod loves so much of what she has put into it ... The triumphant emergence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is given fitting tribute here; it reminds us that moments like the Chatterley trial are precious, and must be cherished and defended, because progress is never inevitable. Victories for freedom should be sung from the rooftops. That is what MacLeod has done.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... a shaggy dog story that seeks to explore the difficulty of saying goodbye to anything, and the experience of losing things and trying to get them back. Its most profound observation is that the sublime moments of our lives are often mundane, and that mundane moments contain the sublime within them. This is expressed with great skill, as the novel’s two protagonists’ whole lives are revealed through blunted dialogue in one dingy pub after another, over the course of a rambling Dublin evening. In its architecture, the milieu and voice Doyle adopts to tell his story, the novel succeeds in communicating something deeply moving about how shabby and run-down our hopes and fears can seem when we put them into words. However, Love is also an almost perverse and occasionally infuriating exercise, which at times resembles a challenge an exceptionally gifted writer has set himself: can I make a good novel out of a pub bore? ... the majority of the novel is a sustained sequence following two men down the rabbit-hole of drink as one of them tries, less and less successfully, to open up his heart to the other. This is difficult to do and is admirably achieved. But there’s a difference between admirable and enjoyable. There are moments of lyricism ... But the bulk of the book is a dialogue in which two men try and fail to say the same thing, over and over again. Frustratingly, there’s a sense that Doyle is consciously containing his dexterity in doing this ... despite Love’s perverse repetitions, the book does eventually land some of its punches. The mundane in the beautiful, the beautiful in the mundane; the old friend you’ve drifted a thousand miles from but need tonight just as much as he needs you, because both of you knew each other back when life began. The rituals that fortified young men years ago, and must now be re-enacted to keep pain at bay for two men in late middle age. All this matters. Similar ideas are explored to devastating effect in John McGahern’s The Pornographer, without Love’s longeurs and flaws. But a book I wanted to throw across the room 50 pages from the end did, by the time I closed it, leave me sitting silently, thinking back over its story, and over losses of my own.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The story unfolds as if we’re watching it through glass ... Graham Swift’s new novel is really Ronnie’s story ... At the novel’s climax, Swift gives us a description of Ronnie’s act which, because he’s made us wait for it, is as enthralling as anything that will be published this year ... With its focus on the marginalised suburban underbelly of England, the novel might have been written by William Trevor (I can offer no higher praise) ... The book wonderfully captures the experience of evacuation during the second world war, which offers a lens through which to study the relationship between growing up and displacement. It’s also a profoundly important story to tell in its own right: a better understanding of what this fracturing of so many childhoods did to people can help us to more clearly understand the latter half of the 20th century ... it has an archetypal quality, reminiscent of a folktale, that encourages the reader to think of the vanished stories their own family histories might reveal. I don’t know quite how Swift does it – the book is light, perhaps slight, and the story is all told at one or two removes so that it reads as though it’s happening in the next room. And yet it’s a magical piece of writing: the work of a novelist on scintillating form.
PanThe Guardian (UK)Gunesekera is an internationally acclaimed writer with a significant body of work, but his new novel is a programmatic piece of genre fiction, the coming-of-age storyline that launched a thousand films. An interesting sociopolitical setting is offered up but sketched so lightly that it doesn’t feel as though the book would need to change more than a few nouns in order to move to Australia, America or anywhere, really ... The writing is sometimes clumsy ... Glimpses of a lyrical and soulful voice flicker occasionally ... Ultimately, though, Suncatcher gives off the strangest air of not actually being a novel. It’s the plot of a teen movie reheated, all detail planed away to make room for the conventions of genre. It makes one ask what stories are actually for – aren’t novels called novels because they should contain something new?
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It takes time for Niall Williams to convince you that tourist fodder isn’t what he’s producing in This Is Happiness ... This is how the novel finally earns its setting and sentimentality – it is among these familiar tropes of Irish writing that Noe’s youth happened, so it is here he must inevitably return in old age, \'because, at the end, we all go back to the beginning\' ... what becomes clear is that the book is sentimental because...Williams is being faithful to his subject ... The pleasure of this novel lies in its eye for detail. The plot, having been established, then takes a long time to do not very much more ... Williams is excellent on churchgoing, amateur dramatics, parking, the cinema. He lavishes close attention on his parishioners, and finds rich material there. He has a humorist’s eye, and his own fond amusement at the people he writes about shines out through the writing ... The fields of Ireland are very crowded, but by the conclusion of This Is Happiness, you feel Williams has justified adding another book to the herd.