PositiveThe Observer (UK)Norton is really good at undemanding, popular fiction with emotional weight and something to say about the vagaries of contemporary life ... Forever Home is effortlessly readable – mainly thanks to its reliance on explanatory speech rather than descriptive prose – possessed of a super twist and full of rounded characters to keep close to your heart.
RaveThe Observer (UK)In Barton’s revelatory and candid memoir, she frames her experiences in Japan in 50 dictionary entries, journeying through her vulnerabilities, otherness and identity in a foreign place and finding solace (and humour) in writing. One of the most powerful stories is about a death she witnesses, entitled \'uwaa: the sound of the feeling that cannot be spoken\'. Grappling with emotion through the medium of language is, however, what Barton does best.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
PositiveThe Observer (UK)This short story collection is a posthumous parting gift from Ruiz Zafón to his millions of fans. The whole point of his oeuvre, so perfectly realised in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, is that he thickly layers gothic Barcelona detail on to tragic, romantic and mysterious narratives. Short excerpts aren’t, therefore, the most obvious entry point to his work. Still, with much-loved places and characters from that series making fleeting reappearances, it’s a fitting coda to his life and world.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... less an explanation of what her songs were about than a reflection on what they mean to her now, resulting in a tale of politics, feminism and equality. There are a few too many discussions with her muses, but Resistance reinforces Amos’s position as one of pop’s more thoughtful songwriters.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
MixedI (UK)Little Eyes is an often horrific vision of how the urge to connect online will play out ... the tone is largely grim. Schweblin has interesting ideas about the ways in which we have let our guard down with technology in order to feel connected. But these ideas never quite cohere into a satisfying narrative. Little Eyes operates as a kind of collection of loosely linked vignettes as people around the world invite these movable toys into their homes, only to realise that they can be anything but harmless fun ... there is still plenty to admire here in the way that her writing, assuredly translated by Megan McDowell, picks away at the parts of human experience that we would rather not recognise ... You do not have to be a soothsayer to work all that out, which is perhaps another problem: this novel will not really tell you anything about our tech-obsessed world that you don’t already know.
PositiveThe GuardianConsciousness is weighty philosophical and scientific ground, yet Parks plots a chatty, accessible path through impenetrable academic papers and conferences on his quest to understand more about being human. So chatty, in fact, he often has conversations with himself, making Parks an even more likable guide to these lofty concepts ... Out of My Head often feels like a dinner party conversation about to go over the heads of nearly everyone in the room. For all his considerable restraint, even Parks ends up deep in theory by the end – although it sounds poetic in his hands...
PositiveThe GuardianHanif’s book is undoubtedly a high-wire act. Red Birds constantly threatens to fall apart, its characters and locations both achingly realistic and elusively metaphysical. But that’s part of its charm ... Red Birds is full of sharp lines ... Hanif employing a tone of gentle exasperation at the absurdities of endless faraway wars ... for all these acutely observed insights, Red Birds’ narrative is marginally less effective than in Hanif’s previous books ... Red Birds doesn’t always soar, but it’s an effective satire.
PositiveThe GuardianBalasubramanyam – something of a Zen exponent himself – balances satire and self-enlightenment in his first novel in nearly 20 years – a surprisingly soulful family tale that echoes Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections in its witty exploration of three children trying to free themselves from the influence of their parents.
Hwang Sok-yong Trans. by Sora Kim-Russell
RaveThe GuardianA regretful, bittersweet exploration of modernisation, which picks away at the country’s past and present, slowly becoming a moving reflection of what we gain and lose as individuals and a society in the name of progress ... Sora Kim-Russell’s translation becomes a real virtue as the build-up of anecdotes and memories from Minwoo’s past gradually layer into a powerful yet modest and profound meditation on personal responsibility and what a fulfilled life might mean ... never trips over into nostalgia or sentimentality ... [Sok-yong\'s] writing is laced with the hard-won wisdom of a man with plenty left to say.
Mathias Enard, Trans. by Charlotte Mandell
PositiveThe Guardian[An] excellent translator ... thick on the atmosphere of the 16th-century Ottoman empire, it’s a far easier, more obviously satisfying route into Énard’s ongoing fascination with the connections between east and west.
PositiveThe Guardian...[an] ambitious new novel ... It’s a timely reminder that living through crisis, whether personal or political – and sometimes both – sends shockwaves across generations ... These are absorbing individuals to care about, rather than hedonistic caricatures painted in broad brushstrokes ... there’s a lot going on in The Great Believers, and while Makkai doesn’t always manage to make all the plates spin perfectly, she remains thoughtful and consistent throughout about the importance of memory and legacy, and the pain that can come with survival.
Paolo Cognetti, Trans. by Simon Carnell
PositiveThe GuardianYoung Pietro’s initial reflections about life on holiday in the mountains, where he spends his summers, his relationship with his father, and his friendship with Bruno, the cow-herding son of a local stonemason, teeter on the brink of being overly mystical. But The Eight Mountains is written in such arrestingly simple language...that it’s impossible not to be gradually sucked into the peaks and valleys of Pietro’s life ... homespun philosophy – of which there is plenty – is an acquired taste. But there’s something about the vertiginous setting that lends itself to this kind of contemplation. Cognetti captures the elation and melancholy that comes with reaching a spectacular summit, only to realise the minuscule part we play in the panorama of life.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Trans. by Edith Grossman
MixedThe GuardianThe opening exchanges of The Neighbourhood, where best friends Marisa and Chabela are in bed in 1990s Lima, are so floridly graphic...that reading them in public may cause some heat under the collar ... Marisa and Chabela are both happily married, to Enrique and Luciano, living comfortable lives attended to by butlers and maids, as they take Italian classes, go to lunch and relax at the movies. Their worlds are about to be turned upside down, however, and it’s such soap operatics that lend The Neighbourhood its atmosphere of an X-rated telenovella ... It’s the salacious stories of the wealthy that propel what is still an enjoyable, if uneven, page-turner of a novel to its odd conclusion. Llosa’s craft is only intermittently on display here, but he still has the power to enthral.
RaveThe Guardianfor all Nicolson’s determination to celebrate the cultural significance of birds that have magnetised his mind, there’s a proper dose of gritty reality here too, not just in his horror that 'science is coming to understand the seabirds just as they are dying.' This is a visceral book ... his writing is expansive, generous and beautifully composed, rather than elitist.
PositiveThe Guardian...another thrilling historical novel from Robert Harris … against the intriguing backdrop of political machinations and brinkmanship is a thriller plot bursting to get out – though it doesn’t properly kick in until halfway through … Harris is brilliant at depicting their world; prewar London, with its anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons and searchlight batteries, is vivid, cinematic. Munich, too, is horrifyingly imperial, huge swastika banners on every building. Most impressively, Harris rarely falls for lazily foreshadowing what is to come for the world; he concentrates on Munich in 1938, and its seismic convergence of corrupt and naive power.