RaveThe Guardian (UK)Serpell’s premise is a magnificent snare; you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better opening chapter this year ... far more intimate, a novel of skin pressed to skin ... a modern parable, or sociopolitical trauma made flesh. Told once, the story of Wayne’s accident is a tragedy; but told again and again and again it becomes a kind of elegy, a lament for broken Black bodies, and recurrent horrors ... In the second half of The Furrows (which is less riveting than the first, but tantalisingly cryptic), Wayne’s absence becomes a kind of shapeshifting presence ... shows how lucrative white guilt and trauma can be. And how easily it can slide into something darker ... Serpell is a terrific destabiliser, even at the level of the sentence ... There are no tidy moral lessons at the end of her dissonant and time-contorting fable – no bones to bury, no truth to pin, no mysteries solved – only the inescapable rhythms of loss.
RaveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)Lush and menacing ... The Book of Goose could be read as an elegy, an accusation, or a confession; a hushed queer love story or a piece of grave-cold vengeance. This evasiveness, present in all of Li’s work, is the source of this novel’s beguilement.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... old-fashioned, digressive and indulgently long ... But Lessons is also deeply generous. It’s compassionate and gentle, and so bereft of cynicism it feels almost radical. Can earnestness be a form of literary rebellion? ... McEwan’s sights are aimed squarely at the generation to which he belongs ... The self-interrogative courage that was so palpably missing from The Cockroach is here. So, too, is the humour ... the book it hopes to be: a hymn to the \'commonplace and wondrous\', a tale of humane grace ... But it’s the female characters – from joyful children to art monsters – who give this novel its heft and verve (and perhaps its title). Next to them, McEwan’s everyman feels a little gormless and grey ... It’s a wearying trope: women as instruments and catalysts of male insight. But as Roland’s granddaughter reminds him: \'A shame to ruin a good tale by turning it into a lesson.\'
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... less a tale of murder most horrid than a study in quiet, everyday violence: vicarious trauma, coercive control, victim-blaming, internalized shame. It’s a novel of sharp-edged tempers, accidents waiting to happen and dark inheritances ... It’s easy to conjure a boogeyman, Scrivenor shows, but it’s those who know and love us who are most likely to hurt us. In a country where a woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner, that lesson still seems terrifyingly necessary.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)... a tale of America’s inescapable and ever-braided legacies: the mythic and the monstrous ... Brooks cut her journalistic teeth on the racing beat, and she knows her way around a horse ... It’s when Brooks resurfaces in the near-present that Horse falters. With his elaborate backstory, convenient thesis and issue-prodding love interest, Theo’s story feels machine-tooled. Raised outside the US, he’s as naive as he is worldly – a man on a collision course with American injustice ... But with tender precision, Horse shows us history in flux ... A really good historical novel does the same thing, letting the past stretch out into a wild and beastly shape. Horse has strong bones – but the struts and wires are showing.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)There is not much literary grist in competence. When your cast is so sedately obliging it is hard to make anything interesting happen ... the cultural discomfort the book aroused is one indication that this ageing thought experiment may have reached the edge of its utility ... lurking inside The Men (though you’ll have to dig deep) is a tale of white guilt, climate inaction and the gravitational pull of grief; of what – or who – we are willing to sacrifice to stay comfortable. But this pair read as novelties, anachronisms, time capsules.
Michelle de Kretser
RaveThe Guardian (AU)Michelle de Kretser’s fiction does more than beckon us in; it requires us to show up. The reward is room to wonder in both senses of the word. But her new novel demands tactile participation ... There’s a whiff of gimmick about it, but also that rarest of high-literary delights: play. And knowing that we’re responsible for the shape this book takes makes us all the more attentive – alert to wormholes and echoes, and de Kretser’s briar wit ... Every page of [Lili\'s] story feels charged, like an open circuit waiting for its switch; a lurking wallop. It’s magnificent, peerless writing ... De Kretser paints a burlesque – a comedy with a rictus face ... To begin Scary Monsters, you must turn your unfavoured half of the book upside down. It’s a tidy, hardworking metaphor ... Lyle and Lili’s stories may read like counterweights, but the truest monster of this book is the possibility that there’s only one way to read it: our complacency and its terrifying punchline.
PanThe Times Literary SupplementWomen are so often cajoled into laughing at sexually ghoulish \'jokes\' lest they be labelled frigid and humourless. The comic set pieces in New Animal provoke a similar discomfort, and a gnawing question: if this is satire, what – or who – is the target? Baxter treats the BDSM community as a punchline: it is a sticky-floored realm of rabbit-suited gimps, \'sexual parkour\', and human brokenness. And, true to trope, Amelia is as flippant as she is raw, quipping her way through an on-stage assault, and treating those around her as extras in her grief-wracked vaudeville ... There is something sharply conservative at play in all this obliterative fucking: not only the message that damaged women have damaged sex, and empty women have empty sex, but that whole women – healed women – aren’t sexually hungry or playful.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... reworks Jean Rhys’s novel Voyage in the Dark (1934): the tale of a chorus girl and her volatile patron. How frighteningly easy it is to transpose that story; how tenacious – and tenaciously gendered – our scripts of romantic power remain ... But where Rhys leaves her heroine destitute, Crimp ultimately leaves hers empowered ... not a doomed love story so much as a self-love story ... Sex, on this view, is a trial that must be endured on the way to wholeness: an instrument of rupture before the inevitable repair ... There is something sharply conservative at play in all this obliterative fucking: not only the message that damaged women have damaged sex, and empty women have empty sex, but that whole women – healed women – aren’t sexually hungry or playful ... This erotics of productivity is a neoliberal morality tale. But there is also an older story lurking underneath it all, insidious and cruelly internalized: it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman, possessed of sexual recklessness, must be in want of a reckoning.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... less a sequel to Goon Squad than a fraternal twin. Minor characters are thrust into the thick of things; formerly major characters make Hitchcockian cameos. As befits its title, The Candy House is a novel of Easter eggs – of hidden in-joke treats. It begs to be read alongside its more extroverted sibling, and to consider, in the space between them, the deflations – incremental and otherwise – of the last decade ... for all Egan’s form-elasticity – her inventive peacocking, tech speculation and bricolage – the tales that work best in The Candy House are the least flamboyant. What felt playful in Goon Squad now feels a little stale: a sustained passage of back-and-forth emails is too conveniently expository; a treatise on spycraft is an on-the-nose wallop ... Underneath all the glitz and frippery, there is something fundamentally old-fashioned about The Candy House ... It’s this insatiable – and unsatiable – yearning that The Candy House draws out so tenderly, as those children tell their feckless parents’ stories as a way to find their own, scour the great aggregate brain for signs they were loved, and reanimate a heyday they never lived.
PanThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The Fell is so attuned to the banalities and anxieties of lockdown that one is tempted to argue, as many critics have done, that the novel belongs to future readers, like a literary time capsule. The notion is intriguing, but it raises questions about what pandemic fiction might, or should, do that other archival material cannot; questions about the relationship between the real and revelatory. Certainly, Moss’s novel captures the listlessness and erosive interiority of lockdown. But it does little to enhance our understanding of these fraught years. With its descriptions of stress baking, decluttering and its mild-mannered grumbles about social distancing, The Fell feels less urgent and immersive than tired ... Saturated in gothic menace, the tale of Kate’s hiking misadventure feels like an evasion: a solvable problem to distract us from the broader terrors of disease and civic and environmental disintegration.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... the most contingent of Strout’s novels, the most emphatically sequel-shaped ... Few American writers are willing to place these questions in the centre of what they do, and so nakedly: it is further evidence of Strout’s under-celebrated nerve. Like all of her fiction, Oh William! is a gentle story of ungentle things: the horrors of ageing, the echoes of family violence, the tenacity of loneliness, the enduring cost of poverty. Rendered with Elizabeth Strout’s characteristic dignity – her insistent quiet – Oh William! evokes the spare beauty of an Andrew Wyeth painting. It is a portrait of unvoiced longing and fading light.
PanThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Winterson’s essays have the fidgety, fractious quality of internet rabbit holes: Jeanette in world-wide wonderland ... But to write of tech progress in the algorithm era is to submit to near immediate obsolescence; our proficiencies, capabilities and crises are evolving as quickly as we can pin them to the page. 12 Bytes is a time capsule of Covid-era gadgetry and its attendant anxieties ...Yet, perversely, 12 Bytes also devolves into a kind of techno-evangelist sermon ... in a time of gross global inequality, democratic erosion, noxious misinformation and lawless tech behemoths, these hopes don’t just feel naive but counterproductive ... an argument that ignores its own evidence. For, in tracing the narrative arc of tech, 12 Bytes can’t help but offer yet another grim catalogue of the ways our online lives have been corporatized, manipulated and surveilled; our privacies ceded and worldviews narrowed.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Ryan, like taciturn Moll, has come home. This is a novel of the Ireland of his childhood – the hermetic rhythms, ceaseless scrutiny and class hierarchies of village life ... As Ryan describes this \'green and yielding\' landscape, his capacity for reverence is on full display. As ever, he builds exquisite sentences, aching to be read aloud. There is wonder to be found in every grove and glade ... A self-confessed \'pretty lazy researcher\', Ryan’s inhabitation of Alexander and his son, Joshua, is disappointing. For a novel that so emphatically forefronts not just questions of prejudice, but of blackness and black identity, Strange Flowers achieves little beyond a gestural rendering of village racism ... Ryan is at the vanguard of contemporary Irish fiction’s magnificent resurgence, what Sebastian Barry, the country’s fiction laureate, has celebrated as \'an unexpected golden age of Irish prose writing\'. Strange Flowers may be the weakest of Ryan’s novels, but it is still a gorgeously wrought book – compassionate without dissolving into nostalgia.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Fiction can...conjure the past with the tools of the present. This is what Lee does, with a great deal of care and wit ... pure literary comfort food: yet another tale of gilded age New York, pitiless and gorgeous; yet another scrappy, self-made man thrusting his way up through the social strata; yet another peer into the brothels and seedy backrooms; yet another heart-hardened cop teetering on the edge; yet another contemplation of the fickleness of history, and the grand precarity of reputation. Paradoxically, it makes for quite the risk; it’s difficult to distinguish yourself in the bustle ... Much like its visionary hero, The Great Mistake feels quietly but intently ambitious, and similarly driven by the quest for a kind of tidy beauty. Lee’s prose is so carefully wrought it often wanders into aphorism. Even the Dickensian flourishes feel a little too neatly whimsical; the cruelties too exquisite. Green’s soul-shaking year in Trinidad is described with gauzy, vague beauty, but the fate of Green’s black assailant, Cornelius Williams, unfolds in the margins—it’s all too ugly ... Central Park...you’re too grateful for the sheer glorious fact of it. The Great Mistake is the literary equivalent of that too-cultivated wilderness. Go wander awhile.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... pure literary theatre, a blood-slicked cabaret ... It is a discomforting source of narrative momentum, the promise of access to Joan’s originating wound, but Animal is a feast of abjection: sumptuously profane and gluttonously cruel. (And plain gluttonous, too: the gastronomy in this novel is positively and deliberately erotic) ... at once repellent and riotous, electric and tedious, slyly brilliant and about as subtle as a brick: a grotesque novel of power to reflect our culture’s grotesqueries of power ... Taddeo’s novel throbs with menace, with the possibility – the growing certainty – of violence ... The transgressiveness of Taddeo’s novel feels like rage-inflected solidarity, but it is also a case of trauma as spectacle. For all of Animal’s dark – and deeply intentional – ironies, it is hard not to be wary of edgelord art that ceaselessly depicts women being hurt to demonstrate how much women are hurt.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Shipstead conducts some glorious mythmaking of her own ... The dauntless aviator is a grand archetype in the pantheon of American heroes, and in Marian Graves, Shipstead has created a character who can shoulder that cultural weight ... a novel of our insatiable need to stare down the terrible, magnificent vastness of it all: love, war, desire, fear ... Shipstead has crafted a sweeping, swashbuckling book, full of oversaturated colour and grand destiny. What saves it from cartoonishness is that its villainy is cruelly ordinary (there is the casting couch power play; a husband’s unquenchable jealousy). Is it possible to love a wild thing, Shipstead asks, without extinguishing that wildness? Do our desires set us free, or hold us to ransom? The critical challenge of Great Circle is reclaiming the lexicon of pleasure and delight from the realm of faint praise. The joy of this dynamic, soaring novel is not a welcome extra but its very engine.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a hurtling hothouse of a novel ... It’s all so drenched in quirk and whimsy, the stuff of Wes Anderson fever dreams. But, unlike Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, the legacy of empire is wild and wakeful on Oyeyemi’s train, not just elaborate wallpaper ... lurches in and out of time and memory, accumulating symbols and backstories like clues to a grand whodunnit...Whether that missive delights or maddens will depend entirely on the reader ... By the time Oyeyemi’s wilfully disproportionate train has stopped, a unifying character has appeared in silhouette: the artist who painted those shapeshifting canvases. As his connection to our cast is drawn out, so is a parable of connection, of the ways we shapeshift to fulfil each other’s desires. Peaces turns the existential terror of feeling unseen into a corporeal reality ... continues Oyeyemi’s career-long project of helping us to unsee – unsnarling the neural knots that childhood fairytales tied in us: those tales of sovereignty and dominion, of limp princesses and their flaxen-haired suitors, of snowy purity and moral absolutes. White-on-white ... What we lose in orientation in this novel, we gain in a kind of merciless velocity. It’s hard not to feel like a passenger aboard this book, a little queasy from watching the narrative blur and judder. But for all of her twee excesses, there are few writers who can match Oyeyemi’s creative glee. On a first read, Peaces works best when you stop trying to solve it, and instead surrender to that exuberance. Far better to sit back and revel in this book’s queer sensualities and the sherbet fizz of its wit; to enjoy the company of platinum-furred, jewel-hoarder Árpád, lithe as Nijinsky reincarnate; or perhaps try to imagine a melody that makes a \'theremin sound as if it was looking back on a long life of crime\'. Then when it’s over, return – clear-eyed – for a second trip.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplemet (UK)Fiona Mozley’s Hot Stew is a tale of villainous gentrification inspired by those Soho raids ... a novel of ownership and kinship, domain, dominion and dirt. But where Elmet was quiet and clenched, Hot Stew is gregarious. Mozley has traded Yorkshire gothic for West End burlesque... Hot Stew corrals a bustling cast, ensnared in a web of politics, intimacy and power ... a surprisingly decorous novel. It borders on the squeamish about the squelching, ordinary realities of bodies and desire, while kinks become glib punchlines. Mozley is decorous about the politics, too ... At its best, it recalls the kind of capacious, rollicking satires Britain produced in and around the Thatcher era – ambitious, scathing and damn good fun. If only Hot Stew had more heat.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... combines the moral righteousness of a fable, the wounded grief of a eulogy, and the fury of someone who still reads the news. And smouldering underneath it all is the red memory of last summer’s reign of fire ... The Living Sea of Waking Dreams follows Anna as she battles her mother’s decline, insisting on last-ditch therapies in the way only those with power and money can. Are her actions a ferocious form of love, sublimated guilt, or a fearful evasion of love’s most intimate and painful obligations? Anna does not know. What she does know is there is an intoxicating calm – a kind of existential grace – to be found at her mother’s bedside ... at its best when it balances its vehemence with its beauty, when it leaves space for the reader to wander and wonder – eucalypt leaves swinging down like \'lazing scimitars\'; a moth thrumming its \'Persian rug\' wings. Flanagan’s novel may be brutal, but unlike Terzo and Anna – so ferociously determined \'to save their mother from her own wishes\' – it is not wilfully cruel.
PanThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... a beautiful literary object...insulated from turmoil. For whether The Mission House overplays its subtlety or is politically timorous, the effect is the same: this is a tale that squanders its context—the rise of Narendra Modi and Hindu nationalism ... a quiet novel of unquiet times. With India’s ideological unrest a vague and distant rumble, Davies’s book feels temporally unmoored, as much an unwitting elegy for a lost England as a portrait of India in the throes of remaking itself. That’s the peril of the hapless Englishman: at its best, this literary device can be a sharp cultural skewer, but it can also be a vector for a kind of folkloric nostalgia that obscures the dark realities of empire.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)There is undeniable energy in these scraps of straight-backed, emphatic prose, but the scavenged paper conceit feels unnecessary, a gimmick reverse-engineered to justify Schofield’s stylistic preference for staccato, pointillist storytelling ... Bina is adamant: she is a \'modern woman with modern thoughts on modern things\', forthright and practical. Yet Bina is a novel of wilful obfuscation and piecemeal revelations. Whether this is a source of beguiling, cantankerous irony or annoying quirk will depend on the reader. In a novel that works so hard to make older women visible – and their stories feel urgent – it seems counterproductive to embrace a form so repetitive it borders on the doddery ... At its raw best, Bina captures the neural loops of a grief-snagged brain with crow-black humour.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewTo describe a bushfire is to describe a monster. We speak of flanks, fingers, tails and tongues, Chloe Hooper observes in The Arsonist, of a predatory, devouring hunger ... The latest book by the Australian writer tells the story of just one of the Black Saturday bushfires, a blaze deliberately lit on the outskirts of Churchill in the Latrobe Valley — coal country ... With propulsive energy, The Arsonist follows the case against Sokaluk, a 39-year-old former volunteer firefighter, from the arson investigation’s first frantic hours to the courtroom verdict. But first, Hooper takes us into the belly of the beast: birds falling from the sky with their wings burning; beehives combusting from the radiant heat; farewell texts escaping from fire-ravaged homes ... The elemental terror of Black Saturday requires little embellishment, only the quiet dignity of witness. It’s this restraint — as intelligent as it is compassionate — that elevates The Arsonist from slick true-crime procedural to cultural time capsule.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Clutter opens as Howard surveys the wreckage of her mother’s overstuffed life: maggots roil; years’ worth of unwashed laundry moulders; long-poisoned mice lie mummified in forgotten corners. Yet the closets are full to bursting with Italian leather shoes and gala gowns, and the costume jewellery of a woman who kept up appearances ... Rather than search for the woman trapped inside the mess, Clutter tackles the story of the mess itself ... Clutter sets out valiantly to counter the tide of insidious neo-liberal wellness literature that frames (and commodifies) social problems as failings in self-care and lauds individual productivity as the greatest of virtues. But, with few meaningful solutions beyond buying less crap, the book often reads like a manifesto without any particular dictums, more an exercise in strident systemic issue-spotting.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Alam’s trope-heavy third novel has the makings of a farce, and the portents of a slaughter ... It’s a delicious conceit, a theatrically contained collision of power and prejudice. There’s such scope for viciousness, and for virtue, too ... perhaps this is the resounding point of the book: when faced with the prospect of world-altering calamity – its moral exigencies and necessary sacrifices – we’re unlikely to do much at all except break out the hummus. It’s less an accusation than a grotesquely banal human truth ... Alam’s novel invites this comparative shorthand because it struggles to develop a personality of its own ... while we catch omniscient snatches of the coming death and ruin, Alam’s catastrophe is conveniently vague – a catalyst for more intimate terrors.
RaveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)The page-turning thrill of Piranesi is watching him puzzle out what we can already see, and guilelessly wander into danger ... Some books arrive dusted with the shimmer of literary myth. Piranesi is one of them ... There is something intoxicating about Clarke’s joyful castaway, a character so unencumbered by the weight of identity and ego. In another author’s hands his naivety might be stifling, but Piranesi seems more free in his crumbling prison than we are in our worldliness. When the winter wind lashes him with snow, he seeks out its beauty ... When the ferocious tides hurl him against the walls, he is grateful the statues are there to catch him. Even the presence of the dead is consolatory ... But the chief joy of Piranesi is that it is a space with limitless room in which the reader may roam, and no signposts – a grand metaphor, perhaps, for the act of fiction-writing.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Sarah’s story, told through another’s eyes, feels far less cohesive, dusting the novel with an unnecessary folkloric sheen ... Is re-enactment the antidote to our \'vast and infinite\' amnesia? It’s a question that haunts the art of the #MeToo era: can (must) we hurt women to prove how women are hurt and hurting? It is telling that the novel’s most potent moments come not from its scenes of violence but from the cell-deep anticipation of them; not from a ruined body in a suitcase but a desperate mother packing that same suitcase in the hope of escape. The Bass Rock lacks the nuance of the author’s previous work (most notably, the wonderfully sinister All the Bird’s Singing (2013). Sometimes you need the blunt force of a rock, but for all the novel’s ferocious and bloody reckonings, it is as a testament to survival that it carries weight.
PanThe Guardian\"It is a premise that requires a mighty belief in suspension in order to suspend disbelief ... There is even a cheeky suggestion in the book’s final pages that Temple’s floating fairytale exists in a similar universe to Tartt’s New England Greek tragedy. But while The Secret History was a novel of soul-curdling aftermaths, bisected by its murder, The Lightness is simply a novel of a looming bad thing ... Where The Lightness does carry weight is in its scenes away from the mountain and its manic pixie dream friends ... it is so dispiriting that her novel opts instead for a twee permutation of a story we have seen so many times before.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Lacey works at the provocative end of contemporary American fiction, and Pew is her sharpest novel yet: a tale of the quiet savagery of \'good\' intentions, and the tyranny—and ecstasy—of belonging ... How easily, this novel shows, the language of forgiveness can become \'a costume for forgetting\' ... Lacey’s ferocious rebuke of church-sponsored sanctimony could easily slip into parochial caricature and contempt—fighting one form of self-righteousness with another—were it not for her silent protagonist, whose private, humane thoughts are our only guide to a world of long-held secrets ... And while there may be allegories lurking here, the author offers no tidy moral to her anti-fable.
Emily St. John Mandel
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)...as we face Covid-19, the strange, masochistic allure of havoc-lit has catapulted Mandel’s post-pandemic tale of itinerant Shakespearean actors back into bestseller territory. How better to while away a stint in lockdown than by bending our waking terrors into the most comforting and redemptive of shapes – the narrative arc ... Mandel has not penned a ticking-clock prequel; rather, her new novel is a portrait of everyday obliviousness, the machinery of late neoliberalism juddering along with characteristic inequity ... It’s a beguiling conceit: the global financial crisis as a ghost story ... All contemporary novels are now pre-pandemic novels – Covid-19 has scored a line across our culture – but what Mandel captures is the last blissful gasp of complacency, a knowing portrait of the end of unknowing. It’s the world we inhabited mere weeks ago, and it still feels so tantalisingly close; our ache for it still too raw to be described as nostalgia...
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)MacLean...is an unabashed anecdote hunter—Alice in dezinformatsiya wonderland. What he fails to demonstrate in investigative tenacity, he makes up for in hyper-coloured absurdity and gleeful caricature ... MacLean writes with the cadences of a fable ... Such rhetoric does a disservice to the complexity of the story...a rhetoric that mistakes our disinformation symptoms for the disease.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Is The Book of Science and Antiquities a sly existential joke, or an entirely solemn endeavour? It’s billed as the latter, as Keneally’s most candid work of fiction to date, a kind of grand human hymn. But there’s a wink or two that suggests he is chuckling into the cosmic void ... For all its expansive intentions, it’s a book whose delights are quiet ... 20th-century literature is a diligent and exhaustive catalogue of male senescence raging against the dying of the light. It’s hard to get excited about another eulogy to virility. The Book of Science and Antiquities lacks JM Coetzee’s caustic cruelty, or Philip Roth’s grotesque libidinousness. Shelby isn’t delightfully awful, he’s just tiresomely ordinary. Perhaps this is the novel’s lurking punchline – that the mundane can be mythic, and the mythic, mundane. The joke would be funnier if the women in Keneally’s novel weren’t confined to roles of warm-bodied consolation. There is a Learned Woman, too, but her story remains – tellingly – untold.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)All the elements are in place for a slick cartel thriller: a relentless villain; an improbable attraction; a clock-ticking chase to safety; a conveniently precocious child ... But despite its flamboyant and breathless first act, that’s not the novel American Dirt aspires to be ... there is a particular kind of literary ambition rooted in titularly American tales – a desire to puncture the soft complacency of American dreams ... Cummins’s title is no accident ... But it proves hard to reconcile the novel’s humane intentions with its propulsive, action-movie execution ... It’s an activist’s gambit: create a trauma so immense that we cannot help but be swept along by the force of its pathos. It dusts American Dirt with a sheen of sensationalist unreality that obscures rather than illuminates the quotidian terrors that beat at the heart of this book ... What emerges is a kind of modern Odyssey with the United States as Ithaca, a gleaming refuge. For a novel that sets out so earnestly to challenge the insular nationalism that leads the US‑Mexico border to feel like some kind of moral boundary, American Dirt may, despite or because of its manifest good intentions, accidentally reinforce the very kind of absolutist reasoning that keeps such myths alive.
PanThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)...a seething Brexit satire, with a gigantic wink to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis ... Much of this slim volume is dedicated to giving Reversalism (and its insectivorous champions) a backstory, leaving scant room for allegorical insight ... for all of his exposition, explication and fury, McEwan shies away from confronting the root causes of Brexit ... With this disdainful, surface diagnosis – less a cultural vivisection than a rebuke – McEwan misses the opportunity to scrutinize Brexit from within. He is simply an aggrieved witness to other people’s stupidity ... Sometimes you need the clarity of a cultural bommy-knocker, but The Cockroach never transcends the feeling that it began life as a self-satisfied joke at a dull dinner party. \'Why are you doing this?\' the German Chancellor implores McEwan’s PM. Jim’s answer feels like an explanation for this smug and petulant little volume: \'Because\'.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Approached as a standalone work of invention...Will and Testament is a powerfully humane novel about inheritance, trauma and the inheritance of trauma ... Financial settlement is an ugly proxy for emotional settlement, and Will and Testament is a fittingly ugly book, mired in the petty mundanity of internecine squabbling: furious late-night emails, Facebook unfriending and virtuoso passive-aggression. It seems only fitting that this novel’s grand moment of reckoning takes place in the drab office of the family accountant ... Charlotte Barslund’s translation captures this soul-deep fatigue with barren prose, bared to the necessary ... this is a novel of the subconscious – of dreams, symbols and obdurate, childish longings ... There is undeniable cruelty in Hjorth’s life-drawn depictions ... But there is also a shimmering vein of compassion running through Will and Testament, and an irrepressible sense of hope. Hatred cauterizes hope, but love leaves it festering. This isn’t (or isn’t only), as the book’s blurb suggestively describes it, a \'down-and-dirty revenge\': it’s a tragic, terrible love story.
MixedThe GuardianCynthia, the simpering, scheming, covetous emotional sinkhole of New Zealander Annaleese Jochems’s assured debut novel, Baby, is alive and squirming; a memorable addition to the growing coterie of unapologetic antiheroines (dis)gracing the pages of contemporary fiction ... Jochem’s narrative is a tale of veneers and facades – the selves we project and curate – and so such questions lurk, but never surface. Depending on the reader, this wilful exteriority will either prove the book’s undoing, or its triumph. For we know as much about Cynthia and Anahera at the end of Baby as we do at the beginning – these two women for whom an untimely death prompts as much distress as an emptied jar of Nutella.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... may be catalysed by accidents, but there is nothing accidental about this fastidiously crafted (and crafty) novel. Saul’s story is laced with clues whose detection should be a source of conspiratorial pleasure. But Levy does not seem to trust that her meaning will be deciphered...There is scant space for the reader here. It is when the novel surrenders to its paradoxes that it beguiles.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Woodson’s elegant multigenerational tale, her second novel for adults, begins eighty years to the day after the Black Wall Street Massacre ... Red at the Bone could so easily have become an elegy for thwarted expectations; that’s the punitive arc we have come to expect from tales of unplanned pregnancy – the tragedy of squandered potential, mitigated only by the redemptive purity of a child’s love. But Woodson – beloved by YA readers for her non-judgemental fiction – has never been interested in such didacticism ... It is rare to read an American novel that talks so unsqueamishly about class, and the systems – from the well-intentioned to the malignantly racist – that stymie upward mobility in black communities. It is rarer still to read a novel of unpunished maternal reluctance ... It is in telling Iris’s story – not as one of callous abandonment but of self-protection and queer desire – that Woodson’s novel shows its red-raw heart.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The opening pages of The Need are charged with menace – taut as a baited mousetrap ... As with a sprung trap, once the central conceit of The Need is revealed, the tension of the novel snaps. But what begins as a hyperventilating domestic noir morphs into elegant speculative fiction, and then into a grand hymn to motherhood ... At times bordering on a parental panegyric, The Need is most compelling when most savage ... With her shadowy intruder, [Phillips] has created another metaphor: a canny physical manifestation of the terrors of parenting.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"... a dauntless exploration of the pathology of silence, an attempt to unsnarl the dark knot of history, culture, fear and trauma that can render conservative Arab-American women so visibly invisible ... Of Rum’s three women, it is implacable Fareeda — enforcer of norms, keeper of secrets — whose voice proves the most revelatory ... The triumph of Rum’s novel is that she refuses to measure her women against anything but their own hearts and histories ... Distinctly, defiantly and earnestly, A Woman Is No Man belongs to itself.\
PositiveTimes Literary Supplement\"... a novel of knots and bifurcations ... Lost Children Archive is formally elastic: it begins as autofiction and ends as something akin to magical realism, but at its heart there is always a narrative echo of this process of familial world-building, of accretion and mythmaking ... Not all of Luiselli’s subjects resonate ... The intention is worthy... but Luiselli’s portrayal of Native Americans in silhouette, as a vanished, voiceless people, risks perpetuating the very cultural erasure it fights against ... The novel’s crowning achievement is its single-sentence climax ... In Lost Children Archive Luiselli takes the US border and turns it into just such a resonant, clarifying surface.\