MixedThe Financial Times (UK)... a novel rich in playful literary pastiches ... In Mexico, the Aztecs also discover a taste for epic seafaring. Here, Binet overreaches himself. Too much happens too fast to allow more than an overstuffed recital of imaginary chronologies. The laborious pile-up of alternative facts renders this phase of Civilisations clogged and inert. Yet the mischievous wit of Binet’s premise never quite forsakes him ... abounds in bold ideas, but has trouble making some of them stick — a problem, after all, that has plagued empire-builders throughout history.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)Bewilderment’s plot has the comforting solidity of a daytime TV series ... celestial fables, which recall the cosmological wit of Italo Calvino, add a playfully inventive extra layer to the novel’s atmosphere ... As it speculates about \'exoplanets\' and their outlandish inhabitants, Bewilderment sometimes skimps in its attention to the earthbound here-and-now. Theo exists in a liberal bubble of them-and-us assumptions. Marty proves his good-guy credentials; Alyssa shines in memory as a departed saint. Yet their truth-denying enemies feature as an amorphous mass of bigotry, personified by the thug-president ... Powers’s unchained imagination stretches its empathy circle from lichen to nebulae, in finely crafted prose. It fails to humanise the local menaces to life on Earth. Bewilderment suggests that, even at its strongest, American fiction now dwells on a polarised planet of night-and-day divisions, not one where dialogue and interaction thrive.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)At intervals, this gargantuan yet graceful biography reminds you of its subject’s fabulous oddity ... Zenith, a distinguished editor and translator of Pessoa’s prose and verse, calls [The Book of Disquiet] \'a heap of beautiful fragments, forever unstitched\'. As biographer, he weaves a broader cloth. He recasts Pessoa as an enterprising, all-round literary innovator rather than the icon of existential solitude encountered in Disquiet. Over these thousand-odd pages, Zenith mimics his subject’s flair for \'self-multiplication\' to become historical scene-painter, literary critic, archival sleuth.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalDon’t expect a tell-all confessional that breaks with every family principle of discretion. Garcia told his father’s biographer that he imagined their tight-knit clan as \'a wheel with four spokes.\' Charming and tender but elusive, A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes proves that wheel remains something of a closed circle ... If his son’s fragmentary portrait of Gabo himself breaks little new ground, Mercedes does emerge at intervals from behind the mask of brisk, steely competence you find in other accounts ... strikes its note of sadness not thanks to any deathbed dramatics—Gabo passes quietly and calmly. Rather, Mr. Garcia’s matter-of-fact scrutiny of the hard work of dying allows the weight of loss to accumulate almost unseen until it drops like a boulder on survivors ... moves and touches when it tiptoes gently from public into private life to show us the familiar closing of this unique partnership. As for the secret life, that resides elsewhere—secure in his father’s incomparable art.
Yan Lianke tr. Carlos Rojas
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Like some Bonnie and Clyde of Maoist fanaticism, Aijun and Hongmei set about smashing every bond of family and friendship in pursuit of their blood-red new dawn. Yet self-awareness, even a guilty conscience, never quite deserts this monstrous couple ... That inner conflict gives this book its pulse and point ... it reads as a vivid, even lurid, portrait of the vandalistic savagery and hypocrisy of the post-1966 Cultural Revolution itself, packed with quotations from the militant songs, slogans, poems and operas of the time — bombastic jargon that Yan’s satire undercuts. In 2021, the novel also serves as witness to a period when Chinese writers could grapple with Mao-era atrocities with a frankness that, two decades later, might be riskier than ever ... Yan captures the sheer erotic thrill of revolutionary entitlement ... Well-served by Carlos Rojas’s agile and richly textured translation, Yan makes his anti-hero a pleasure-loving sensualist. Aijun exults like some classical poet in landscapes, sunsets, seasons and the fragrant flower garden of his lover’s body. His testimony glows with intense, synaesthetic snatches of perception. Smells becomes sounds; colours turn into scents ... Aijun’s voice, lyrically impassioned yet utterly deluded, makes the misdeeds of these back-country Robespierres if not sympathetic, then comprehensible.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalDespite its homage to happenstance, a consistent design runs through this miscellany. From the Indian-Persian-Arabic tales of the One Thousand and One Nights to classic American fiction with its \'comedy and tragedy of the reinvented self,\' Mr. Rushdie salutes the \'protean\' and \'metamorphic\' art of change and multiplicity ... Languages of Truth stretches from blazing manifesto to nostalgic reminiscence, close-focus review to polite podium utterance. It shelters a few duds—ephemeral or routine records of the writer as public figure—but plenty of gems ... Even in such a ragbag, Mr. Rushdie makes his trademark leap from art to life as he frames all humankind—not only migrants—as \'constant adapters of ourselves\' ... His years as headline and symbol have often occluded the wit and fun of Mr. Rushdie’s work. That zestful spirit makes a comeback here.
RaveThe Arts DeskSpufford points to the elasticity of time behind our \'rickety scaffolding of hours and minutes\', and avoids a chronological trudge through these five connected lives. This lends Light Perpetual its element of streamlined Modernist architecture. However, within each scene his \'arrangement of fragments\' feels solidly traditional in its styling and furnishing. We get to know each character in action, through smartly choreographed and beautifully observed set-pieces – classrooms, parties, weddings, sermons, discos, fights. We follow the movements, private and public, that transform the people and their city while leaving much untouched in the messy aftermath of war ... This is only an average-sized novel, but it casts an epic shadow ... As in real life, we periodically lose touch with Spufford’s un-famous five, then meet again after a long gap. If these 15-year leaps present problems of continuity for an ensemble piece like this, they also let us grasp that the rhythms of time rap out syncopations and discontinuities as often as regular beats. People, like times, can change, and fast ... this novel simply excels in the stop-time rapture of noticing, in detail, ordinary-extraordinary people and the things they make and do ... gives back what history stole: the time of their lives.
RaveThe Arts DeskDead Souls belongs to a moment when art, money and technology now tangle ... Dead Souls – Its Gogol-ian title alone a hubristic act of theft, like calling your fiction debut Tristram Shandy or Moby-Dick – puts all these forces into play again. Then it cunningly aligns them into a remix of the dystopian literary satire that both reflects and distorts the way we live (and read) now ... Civilian readers might also wonder why they should care about an upscale coterie entertainment – especially one prompted by the rumoured narcissism and paranoia of this corner of the literary scene ... Once you catch the spuming surf of his prose – and, as with Bernhard or Marías, it does take a little time – you’ll want to ride the wave to the shore. He’s wickedly sharp about the pious deceits, and self-deceptions, that fuel the culture industry like oil. And he grasps that, in the era of endlessly networked art and emotion, all culture may come to resemble the poetry subculture: gossipy, parochial, panic-prone, intimate, addictive, yet somehow never really there.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... a brief, fierce account of Dostoevsky’s inner and outer life ... The book doesn’t aim to rival standard biographies — above all, Joseph Frank’s five-volume masterwork — but it does dodge smartly past the forbidding mystic monster of the textbooks to find the all-too-human pilgrim through extremities beneath ... Christofi’s rapidly unrolling tapestry helps to capture the madcap, tumbling and ferocious quality of Dostoevsky’s style — a fizzing energy lost, scholars claim, in too-polite translations. Save for a few odd lapses when his editor dozed, Christofi’s own writing helps restore the elements of risk and shock to a writer whose storytelling became \'the skin that kept distance between his tender heart and the cruelties of the world\'. He understands that wild Dostoevsky can flay the reader’s defences into ribbons, as Olympian Tolstoy cannot.
Tove Ditlevsen, trans. by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
RaveThe SpectatorWrenching sadness and pitch-dark comedy regularly partner her swift progress from a cramped Copenhagen tenement to literary fame. Ditlevsen published these three compact memoirs between 1967 and 1971. They capture the naivety, terror and rapture of her early life across a fast-changing palette of prose colours ... Her ‘longing’ for oblivion will persist, ‘like rot in a tree’. Tove may forever feel as ‘scruffy, confused and alone’ as the stray mutts she watches as a girl. But her aghast scrutiny of hostile reality will also yield books as sharp, tough and tender as these.
RaveThe Arts Deskthis volume serves as a mini-anthology of great Russian fiction from the 1830s to the 1900s ... Above all, the tales pay attention – visionary, transformative attention – to humble and slighted people who lead downtrodden lives ... Saunders loves these works like old friends who never let him down, and always have something new to say. He does his fair share of minute structural analysis, stripping the engines down to show us how they go. But his warmth, enthusiasm and homespun metaphors – all part of that \'writerly charm\' – banish any sense of the chilly, mechanistic Fiction Lab. Wannabe short-story writers will no doubt learn a lot ... Fix a story’s formal problems of voice, or pace, or structure, Saunders argues, and you’ll expel moral – even political – shortcomings from it too ... Russian speakers will also worry that, for much of the book, Saunders says little about the translations that he cites. The word choices, the sentence flows, the nuances of voice and tone, that add to the effects he examines depend here on the stories’ Anglophone interpreters ... Never mind: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain generates more fun, more wit, more sympathetic sense, than we have any right to hope for from a 400-page critical study.
RaveThe Arts DeskGlass is a richly gifted young novelist ... Whereas her debut burrowed ferociously, but lyrically, into the aftermath of a horrific attack on its young narrator, this second novel unfolds in the professional milieu she knows, and in the driven, haunted minds of the people who sustain it ... conveys all the drama, dread, stress and (sometimes) blissful relief of a working life spent in intensive paediatric care. Its galloping pace and breathless immediacy feel deeply, even scarily, authentic. Packed with echoes, assonances and internal rhymes, along with some verbal swerves and twirls that recall the prose work of Dylan Thomas (Glass also comes from Wales), her muscular language throbs with sinewy energy ... delivers a string of close-focus, high-impact scenes that blend gnawing tension and surging tenderness. The visceral physicality of Glass’s writing has a shocking sensuousness about it, down to the peculiar texture and odour of the vomit ... No wise-cracking, hard-bitten pro from some TV cast of stereotypes, Laura empathises almost to excess with her vulnerable babies and their frantic families ... At its height, Glass’s battlefield prose calls to mind not so much a hospital soap as the literature of the trenches, the dugout and hand-to-hand combat, from the Somme to Vietnam. This, though, is a trauma-generating war on death and despair fought for us in every city, every day.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... brief but haunting ... Mr. Friedländer confirms his late swerve toward literature in the incisive and quizzical essays ... Some readers might expect Mr. Friedländer the historian to focus on the social Proust of salon intrigue and upper-class rivalry—the writer who takes his prose scalpel to a changing elite as the old aristocracy competes with a confident new bourgeoisie. Yet the narrator, as he insists, is not just an \'observer\' but a \'dreamer.\' Mr. Friedländer also turns a forensic gaze on the Proustian principle of “involuntary memory,” the mental process that re-creates a vanished past ... Mr. Friedländer’s anti-tragic reading seems oddly out of kilter with his own insights into a work built on grievous loss that seeks salvation through enchanted memory. Proustian uncertainties—and contradictions—may ensnare critics too ... intimate and subtle.
Ismail Kadare, trans. by John Hodgson
RaveThe Spectator (UK)Ismail Kadare is a lapidary artist who carves meaning and pattern from the rockily intractable mysteries of his native Albania ... Having portrayed Albania’s body politic over many books as a sort of dysfunctional household, Kadare, now 84, reverses the flow of the metaphor. The Doll is an autobiographical story, with Kadare’s beloved, fragile and inscrutable mother at its heart ... The dependence of Kadare’s tough, sly and resilient voice on his mother’s lifelong loneliness and vulnerability lays a clinching and moving capstone on this book. At the end, on a return visit to the renovated mansion, he and his wife Helena discover a ‘secret entrance’ to the house. The Doll delicately opens some secret doors of its own. But ‘the perplexity of long ago’ remains.
Richard J. Evans
PositiveThe Arts DeskIn the days when crowds still thronged airport bookshops, any work entitled The Hitler Conspiracies would surely leap off the shelves. This one ought to flourish in our more immobile times – not least because it unpicks twisted ways of thinking that stretch far beyond the legacy of the Third Reich and its leader ... Much of this hare-brained hogwash would count as comedy gold – were it not for two aspects of the Hitler survival business Evans highlights. First, in the internet age, the Führer-in-Argentina advocates blend into other communities of \'alternative knowledge\' to create a sort of online Conspiracy International. Their comrades range from anti-Obama \'birthers\' to old-style anti-Semites and up-to-date zealots on the Trumpian alt-right. No doubt, since Evans completed this work, the Covid denialists have joined the party too. Perhaps more sinister than this intersectional underworld of fantasists and fanatics, big bucks from the entertainment industry have helped to keep the leaky hulk of myths and lies afloat ... From internet chatrooms to Hollywood boardrooms, the follies and falsehoods Evans dissects not only aim to portray serious historical research as an \'official\' or \'mainstream\' smokescreen that keeps what really happened away from the public view. More gravely, they cast cumulative doubt on \'the very idea of truth itself\' – the playbook of the propagandistic alt-right now, as in the days of their intellectual forerunner Dr Goebbels ... More than ever, we need the sort of intellectual firewall that this sober, scrupulous work supplies as a defence. That makes The Hitler Conspiracies not just a fairground freakshow but, as Evans writes, \'a book for own own troubled times\'.
RaveiNews (UK)He frets briefly over the \'morally treacherous ground\' of auto-fiction, but leaps right in with a buoyant disdain for the genre’s quagmires and quicksands ... Over 520 pages, Inside Story gathers just about every weapon in the writer’s armoury into a Bumper Book of Mart—the grotesque, hyperbolic fiction; the tender tributes to friends and family; the corrosively witty takedowns; the shame-faced but swaggeringly funny avowals of youthful excess; the grandiose edicts on literature and politics; most of all, the restless circling around the idea, and the process, of death ... If you enjoy keeping company with Amis—his eye, his mind, his lexicon—Inside Story serves a lavish buffet. The book sprawls; it irritates; it may even outrage. But it exhilarates much more.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Davis\'s...florid appreciation of the land and people can on occasion tip over into purpled gush. He describes earlier plant-hunters, dazzled by local abundance, as \'prostrate before the gates of awe.\' Intermittently, he assumes that pose himself. Still, no traveller would deny the \'warmth and decency\' he celebrates everywhere along his route. Colombia really is easy to love ... Davis suffuses his reportage with a visionary tinge. But his subject more than warrants it. He tells of an indigenous savant who advises lovers of the Magdalena to \'Know its moods . . . recognise its power, yield to its strength, and be thankful for its bounty.\' His torrential book achieves all that.
RaveThe Arts DeskHazareesingh has managed to write an outstanding biography that breaks fresh ground and scrapes the crust of folklore, and cliché, from the Toussaint story ... The fast-moving events of the 1790s in Saint-Domingue take a lot of unpacking. Hazareesingh smartly balances a twisty narrative with wider analysis of the forces and ideas at work ... His scrupulous and absorbing biography not only portrays Toussaint the swashbuckling hero. It celebrates the philosopher.
Yuri Herrera, Trans. by Lisa Dillman
RaveThe Arts DeskAlthough it explores a single incident from a century ago, Yuri Herrera’s brief, forensic but quietly impassioned account of a Mexican mining disaster may speak directly to the movements that now seek to reclaim a buried past from beneath official records ... A Silent Fury asks, in its discreet but compelling voice, who gets to make history – especially the history of suffering and loss. It considers how the exclusions and oversights in formal accounts can be corrected by other sources, other memories ... Despite its flashes of drama, A Silent Fury reads almost like the working notes for a novel, or a critical case-study of history-making as the alibi of abusive power. Lisa Dillman’s English version adroitly captures its scholarly scruple and veiled ardour ... With oral legacies and his own insight to help him, Herrera translates the past anew ... It makes for a modest, quietly-spoken book – but a memorable one. Sometimes you wish that Herrera would let imagination – even indignation – rip, but that’s not his purpose here. For him, the lies of power that effaced the truth about life, and death, at El Bordo still flourish. And not only in Mexico, readers here may add. Three years ago today, Grenfell Tower burned.
Jonas Hassen Khemiri, trans by Alice Menzies
RaveThe Spectator (UK)Some faint hearts may sink at the idea of a torrid Swedish family drama peopled with nameless figures identified only as ‘a grandfather who is a father’, ‘a sister who is a mother’, and so on. Stick around: this gets better ... offers much more than satire or sociology — even if it does depict a Sweden seldom glimpsed in morose rural policiers ... Shuttling between viewpoints, Khemiri’s prose has a zing and bite stylishly served by Alice Menzies’s pacy, idiomatic translation. If those abstract labels (‘a son who is a father’ etc) suggest some solemn archetypal conflict à la Strindberg, then the gleeful ferocity of close-up observation yank us down to modern earth ... an epic, as well as a comic, buoyancy.
PositiveThe Arts DeskBregman sprints at a breakneck pace around history and science ... Bregman is far from the first sceptic to unpick and ridicule these landmark projects in social psychology...But Bregman handily, and enjoyably, draws up a damning charge-sheet against the Wicked Humans hypothesis and its propagators. Crucially, he shows that such experiments won fame just as a full understanding of the Holocaust and other genocides took root everywhere. In the reputedly carefree 1960s, the nightmares of the century finally hit home, and the verdict on humankind turned sour ... Bregman seldom lingers long enough for doubt and ambiguity to seed ... However heart-warming, this scattergun anecdotalism will hardly convert the sort of heavyweight thinker (the likes of Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins) whom this book sets out to challenge and rebut...That said, Bregman is zestfully good company from first to last. His cheekily entertaining, seductively readable prose finds perfect champions in his translators, Elizabeth Manton and Erica Moore. Meanwhile, his insistence on the solid realism of kindness, compassion and solidarity – with their roots deep in the early growth and flourishing of our species – does offer a more credible account of \'the resilience of humankind\' than the lurid \'killer ape\' precepts and their reflections in hyper-individualist politics or economics. And, right now, as mutual care and shared responsibility alone promise a way out of global emergency, it certainly looks as if Bregman and his allies stand on the right side of history.
PositiveThe Arts DeskHow close should a biographer come to her subject? Clare Carlisle stays by the side, and looks through the eyes, of Søren Kierkegaard at almost every step on his maverick journey ... unashamedly subjective, lyrical, impassioned and impatient with the buttoned-up, life-denying formality of conventional philosophy – conventional biography too, for that matter. Those qualities make her study of this ironic, ecstatic and anguished outsider a deep pleasure, but a challenge as well, for the curious lay reader ... Philosopher of the Heart enacts Kierkegaard’s audacity and verve in thinking and writing, his \'new way of doing philosophy,\' in a thrillingly inward and intimate style ... From first to last, theological debate powers Kierkegaard’s prose. Carlisle correctly refuses to downplay its role ... Her book powerfully shares that passion, and that urgency.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)So, yes — if you want a spookily prescient vision of human isolation both assuaged and deepened by inscrutable, glitch-prone tech, then Little Eyes more than fits the brief. Its fairly rudimentary kit — smartly, Schweblin makes the spy-toys’ low-spec clunkiness a key element — allows claustrophobic intimacy to flourish alongside physical distancing ... Adroitly served by Megan McDowell’s winningly deadpan translation, these stories deal not in ‘truly brutal plots’ but ‘desperately human and quotidian’ urges, fears and scams. Schweblin shuns splashy dystopian gestures — think what a Stephen King or a Ray Bradbury might have done with this premise. In the middle of our stay-at-home, broadband-enabled apocalypse, that feels right.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Bate is a supremely capable guide, steeped in the poet’s work and milieu ... Radical Wordsworth...deserves to take its place as the finest modern introduction to his work, life and impact ... Bate delivers not a long-distance trudge of the kind the poet loved (Thomas De Quincey, his disciple, worked out that Wordsworth’s rambles covered 175,000 miles) but a collage of crisply written, intensively researched scenes, \'fragmentary, momentary, selective.\'
PositiveThe Arts Desk... breezily written but intensively researched. Hansen, who draws on recent investigations by her own global network of colleagues, may not quite convince you that her first age of \'globalisation\' ever matched the worldwide density of contact enjoyed today – or rather, in our pre-pandemic yesterday. She does show how goods, people and ideas from far away helped lay the foundations of the world we still inhabit.
Nicolas Mathieu, Trans. by William Rodarmor
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Mathieu’s lament over the social and psychic wreckage left by deindustrialisation aligns him to other literary witnesses to a forgotten underclass in French culture today, such as Édouard Louis and Didier Eribon. His rapt attention to the humdrum, epoch-defining detail of daily life may bring to mind the icily forensic gaze of Michel Houellebecq. Mathieu, however, has a different perspective — and a much more loveable one ... His qualities lie far from either Louis’s blazing fury, or Houellebecq’s glacial contempt. Although acts of violence punctuate the families’ journey through the decade, And Their Children After Them finds space too for beauty, for tenderness, for hope. It has a strain of blue-collar romanticism, of nostalgia for the dignity of toil ... If these overlapping layers of cause-and-effect recall the naturalism of Émile Zola, then something in the half-lyrical, half-prophetic tone reminded me of DH Lawrence ... Then again, you might think of a Ken Loach movie with a soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen; especially as William Rodarmor’s salty and supple translation lends to Anthony and his pals the smartass, vulnerable voices of American, not British, rust-belt teens ... may sound like a tract. It feels, though, more like an elegiac anthem, one drenched in \'the terrible sweetness of belonging\'.
PositiveThe Arts Desk... a rueful comic attention to the minutiae of life on the move (or on the run) collides should with a drenching immersion in memories that stubbornly retain their weight and bite ... In her company, we sometimes teeter on the brink of bedroom farce but, equally, on the threshold of horror. Is that once-charming cowboy hammering on the door in Austin a joke, a jerk or a deadly menace? ... Yes, the fiction of Samuel Beckett does loom behind McBride’s prose like some craggy cliff. A few passages, indeed, go in for frank pastiche ... Although a book composed of beautiful sorrows, Strange Hotel also crackles with a bone-dry humour and a crisp intelligence that relieves its melancholy and lightens its load. In any case, the supple rhythms of McBride’s prose carry their own cargo of exhilaration. At the close, we may even glimpse the chance of a liberation from this cycle of mourning and regret.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)...an artfully woven non-fiction account of life, love and art in the France of the Belle Époque ... Barnes depicts Pozzi from many angles. Still, he never rushes to judgment but uses the test-case of this altruistic, high-principled but selfishly sensual man to arraign the smug moralism about the past that reflects the 21st century’s \'coarsening of language and memory.\' Despite his failings, Pozzi survives as “a kind of hero” for Barnes ... He doesn’t make things up but he does edit, frame and — above all — knit his patchwork of stories together with all the suturing skill of Dr Pozzi, that fast-fingered virtuoso of the catgut or silver-wire stitch ... this richly textured portrait of Pozzi and his friends does hold up a mirror to our own \'hyperventilating times.\'
Nino Haratischvili, Trans. by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Although it moves from tragedy to chaos to upheaval, across a \'red century\' that \'cheated and deceived everyone,\' The Eighth Life is a true supra of a novel—a lavish banquet of family stories that can, for all their sorrows, be devoured with gluttonous delight. Despite their burdens of grief, fear and anger, Nino Haratischvili’s characters—six generations of one Georgian clan—come to exuberant life ... Her huge novel (running to more than 900 pages) shows a double face, its crushing pain and loss nonetheless conveyed with an artful storyteller’s sheer joy in her craft ... translated...with unflagging zest and ingenuity over an array of voices and styles ... Haratischvili’s verve, pace and cunning mean that this giant fresco hardly ever dawdles. Even in the depths of war and dictatorship, her women retain a measure of agency and choice ... Haratischvili never stints on drama and surprise ... Tumultuous life...tumbles from each page.
Daniel Kehlmann, Trans. by Ross Benjamin
RaveThe Financial TimesIn this robust, flavourful translation by Ross Benjamin, Kehlmann often matches the visceral quality of Grass’s prose. He has, though, a genial lightness all his own ... Like a magician plucking an egg from an empty palm, Kehlmann summons comedy, farce, wisecracking badinage, even romance, from this blighted time ... In its droll way, Kehlmann’s portrait of the shape-shifting jester belongs to the German family of the Künstlerroman: the novel of an artist’s growth ... Kehlmann’s own graceful sleight-of-hand makes past and present, myth and history, merge. His time-defying artifice, and artistry, persuades us that \'Nothing passed. Everything was. Everything remained.\'
Patrick Modiano, trans. by Euan Cameron
PositiveThe Independent (UK)Modiano makes his readers hunt for links \'like the piece of a jigsaw puzzle that has been lost\'. A little sleuthing shows that some of the names and addresses cited in the novel allude to the worst horrors of the Occupation years. He never spells them out. Meanwhile, in the foreground, the child\'s sense of abandonment incubates a grief that, if triggered, may \'unfurl through the years\' like the fuse on a rediscovered wartime bomb. Euan Cameron\'s atmospheric translation does ample justice to this spectral tale.
Michel Houellebecq, Trans. by Shaun Whiteside
MixedFinancial Times (UK)Critics accuse Houellebecq of nihilism. Not so: he is a moral conservative behind all the libertine swagger and stone-faced mischief. True love counts, its betrayal wrecks lives, and Labrouste finally grasps Christ’s \'horror at the hardening of people’s hearts\' ... He still loves to tease and goad—not always with much point. In Normandy, a witnessed episode of paedophilia goes nowhere and does nothing. Still, his caustic ironies entertain, with Labrouste an oddly companionable grouch ... Houellebecq keeps his own pages turning briskly. Yet they open on to scenes familiar from his own back catalogue. Self-imitation takes over: all his greatest hits, now shorn of the thrill of novelty.
Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveFinancial Times (UK)... compassionate, lyrical, angry, audacious, composed with a supercharged eloquence, and translated—by Frank Wynne—with dazzling virtuosity ... Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s writing positively reeks of pathos, and of rage. Yet for all the acrid pungency of its prose, Animalia pretty much tells an everyday story of country folk ... Both halves of Animalia play whiffily brilliant variations on the time-worn motifs of the French rural novel, with its warring kindred rooted in a land that nurtures but curses them ... Del Amo grafts family melodrama on to a visionary eco-polemic ... Yet he has plentiful passages of heart-lifting loveliness ... From first to last, \'the cruelty of men\' emits its rancid stench. Thankfully, Del Amo lets us sniff the sweeter scents of tenderness and beauty too.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalA master of slow-burn revelation, Mr. Harris gradually discloses the nature of the disaster that has pushed England, and the planet, back to an epoch of homespun cloth, packhorse transport and theocratic law. Neither nuclear war nor extreme climate change—the drivers of so many dystopian novels—have triggered this downfall ... Mr. Harris’s portrait of a narrow, becalmed social order has more in common with the vision of, say, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale than the more florid dystopian imagination of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road ... Mr. Harris drip-feeds us tantalizing nuggets of information on two levels ... Mr. Harris cleverly portrays a society whose slow recovery from a century-long \'Dark Age\' of chaos has \'stalled at the point civilisation had reached two centuries before disaster struck\' ... Mr. Harris’s final, galloping pages have the almost cartoonish exuberance of a neo-medieval Indiana Jones adventure. Yet The Second Sleep, a novel as rich in ideas as it is in suspense, leaves us with gnawing questions.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. by Don Bartlett
RaveThe Independent (UK)Through Dancing in the Dark, mysticism interrupts minutiae ... Drink-by-drink, grope-by-grope inventories of bashes and binges, along with the fumbling encounters with village girls that conclude them, suddenly give way to electrifying insight into the beauty of each moment ... At the end of this bittersweet stint in the far north, translated again with both dynamism and delicacy by Don Bartlett, the last track invoked happens to be that talisman of the late John Peel: \'Teenage Kicks\' by The Undertones. For all its manic over-dub of detail, Dancing in the Dark delivers a knockout kick.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
RaveThe Independent (UK)Knausgaard spares us too much overt reflection in order to maximise the power of every jaunt, scrape, crush, cult and (quite often) spell of terror and bout of weeping. For these early years are overshadowed by a fairy-tale father ... Via his visceral, immersive art, Knausgaard makes the heart visible as he conjures \'the intensity that only exists in childhood\'. With skin-tingling immediacy, Boyhood Island transmits \'the excitement that exists in the unseen and the hidden\'.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
PositiveThe Independent (UK)As with his great mentor, adherence to a strict chronology matters less to Knausgaard than crafting a mosaic of glittering scenes, framed by recurrent images and memories. Don Bartlett deserves the highest praise for a translation that, with pace, rhythm and agility, registers every swing and swoop of mood and tone. This prismatic, recursive approach to childhood and adolescence means that Knausgaard offers much less in-your-face intimacy than the hype suggests ... Sometimes overblown, quite often as sublime as its author hoped, this first installment of an epic quest should restore jaded readers to life.
Michel Houellebecq, trans. by Frank Wayne
PositiveThe Independent (UK)Is the whore-loving, Muslim-baiting 44-year-old novelist who has stamped his name on a Euro-brand of millennial lassitude really \'hunting big game\' – as Julian Barnes wrote about his last novel, Atomised? Or is he cynically potting the feeble rabbits of post-Sixties liberal piety to thrill the kind of jaded reader who laps up anything that smacks of \'political incorrectness\'? ... Platform opts for droll and deadpan satire (on tourism, consumerism, the jargon of marketing) rather than mystical SF. Yet it also depicts the alienated trippers who seek paid-for oblivion in Thai or Cuban arms as people sick of life – drones and parasites for whom \'the idea of the uniqueness of the individual is nothing more than a pompous absurdity\' ... This element of Houellebecq\'s vision – in which our frantic pursuit of happiness becomes a quest for extinction – takes aim for the biggest intellectual quarry any novelist could find in their sights now.
RaveThe Financial TimesJonathan Rée spans a vast ocean of ideas. He introduces us to their shapers and breakers, and gently captains us in 50-year stretches across the seas of English-language thought with astonishing skill as both map-maker and way-finder ... Rée lets a hundred flowers bloom. He teaches us differences. Witcraft declines to trace a single royal road through redundant errors towards an irrefutable truth. It doesn’t stick to the same small handful of big ideas, eternally recurring in one mind after another ... Witcraft may, or may not, please academic philosophers. Others should enjoy its riches slowly, and savour every generous, erudite and undogmatic page.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... racy and pacy ... yields a rare glimpse of the pulp-fiction flipside that partnered the rhapsodic and mystical Mishima of important works ... repeats in a consciously trashy key the themes that had bewitched this proud, gifted and hard-working dandy and aesthete since his debut in the 1940s ... At the same time, glimpses of more authentic despair break through these lurid manga surfaces.
Robert Menasse, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)... a thoroughly entertaining fiction that serves both as a sort of campus satire and a novel of ideas. For sure, Menasse has an agenda. His nicest characters tend to believe in the ‘post-national democracy’ of EU integration. Still, their efforts to sell the Brussels system as ‘the moral of history’ pass through enough comically convoluted byways to give succour to sceptics too ... With its zest, pace and wit, Jamie Bulloch’s translation serves him splendidly. Intermittently, The Capital soars above the citadel of intrigue to give a ‘bird’s-eye perspective’ from the past. It tempers satire with sympathy for the battered dream of unified Europe as ‘the realm of freedom’ and solvent of national hatreds. Yet its snaking plot, and scheming mandarins, gleefully run away with the novel. In Britain, I suspect, Menasse will gladden many hearts, but change few minds.
Robert Menasse, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
RaveThe Spectator (UK)... a thoroughly entertaining fiction that serves both as a sort of campus satire and a novel of ideas. For sure, Menasse has an agenda. His nicest characters tend to believe in the ‘post-national democracy’ of EU integration. Still, their efforts to sell the Brussels system as ‘the moral of history’ pass through enough comically convoluted byways to give succour to sceptics too ... Menasse has sly fun with the ‘Babylonian gibberish’ of the Commission and the Yes, Minister ruses of its staff. With its zest, pace and wit, Jamie Bulloch’s translation serves him splendidly. Intermittently, The Capital soars above the citadel of intrigue to give a ‘bird’s-eye perspective’ from the past. It tempers satire with sympathy for the battered dream of unified Europe as ‘the realm of freedom’ and solvent of national hatreds. Yet its snaking plot, and scheming mandarins, gleefully run away with the novel — like the fugitive pig trotting around Brussels as a grunting emblem of the mystery and mayhem that impede every masterplan to straighten Kant’s ‘crooked timber of humanity’. In Britain, I suspect, Menasse will gladden many hearts, but change few minds.
Gabriel García Márquez
PositiveThe Financial Times[Davis\'s] florid appreciation of the land and people can on occasion tip over into purpled gush ... Still, no traveller would deny the \'warmth and decency\' he celebrates everywhere along his route. Colombia really is easy to love ... The great novelist’s fond homage to the Magdalena is one of the entertaining and well-crafted pieces in The Scandal of the Century, an entertaining and well-crafted selection of articles that “Gabo” the life-long journalist wrote between 1950 and 1984, contains his fond homage to the Magdalena ... Davis suffuses his reportage with a visionary tinge. But his subject more than warrants it ... torrential.
Leila Slimani Trans. by Sam Taylor
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)\"Slimani evokes the \'prosaic vulgarity\' of these dismal couplings in unsparingly lucid prose, elegantly translated by Sam Taylor. She finds images for Adèle’s howling loneliness in the objects and decor that witness her adventures ... Slimani’s journey through the brambly gardens of lust has affinities with the libertine tradition of French prose ... Slimani, prises open the unspoken faultlines of class and culture that may deepen romantic and marital rifts ... In taut, lithe prose, Slimani’s novel digs for the roots of that sorrow and that fear. Its clarity only deepens its compassion. Yet a sense of mystery abides. Out of that darkness, the \'shadow\' behind Adèle, Slimani has made a tender and troubling novel rather than a psychiatric tract.\
RaveThe SpectatorIgbo mythology and cosmology suffuse the novel as it swings between earthly and spiritual planes ... Sometimes, [Obioma] can summon the ‘shimmering radiance’ of their immaterial realm with all the epic heft of an Igbo Paradise Lost ... Obioma brings his untiring flair for metaphor and parable, proverb and myth. Pithy images cut through the sprawl and meander. ‘Your ears have been patient,’ our spirit narrator tells his divine listeners. Obioma’s readers will need patient ears as well. He rewards them, though, with the rejuvenating music of his prose.
PositiveThe Art DeskIn addition to his 16 novels, and his youthful translations of Conrad, Stevenson, Kipling, Sterne and other English-language authors, Marías has for decades been a stalwart newspaper columnist, critic and pundit, mostly for the weekend supplement of the Spanish daily El País. Between Eternities selects around 50 of his occasional pieces.
Alessandro Spina, trans. by André Naffis-Sahely
MixedIndependentDon\'t expect from Spina polished late-imperial romance of the sort that fans of the twilight-of-the-Raj school, from Paul Scott to Vikram Seth, know and love ... these stories also experiment with alternatives to realism ... Even though Naffis-Sahely tracks these shifts of register with skill, you feel that Spina may be finding his feet as a narrator.
RaveFinancial Times\"... stupendous ... Leader chronicles the art-life relationship with a high-definition precision and amplitude. His sedimentary method lends both volumes a richly satisfying density of texture, like impacted strata of multicoloured rock. He maps the whole fractured geology of Bellow’s mind and, at the bedrock layer, finds a curious hankering not for fuss but peace ... As this truly magnificent biography reveals, Bellow \'recovered greenness\' time and again. But did others have to wither as he flowered?\
Mathias Enard, Trans. by Charlotte Mandell
PositiveFinancial Times\"Translated with sensuous flair by Charlotte Mandell, this slice of tweaked history avoids the full-strength counterfactual mode, with the entire course of the Renaissance re-set by Michelangelo’s defection to the other side ... Enard packs a feast for the senses into this short book. He loves to cite the catalogues, the inventories, the cargo manifests, that evoke the cross-Mediterranean traffic of the time ... Enard knows, too, that richly embroidered yarns from distant times and places both seduce and mislead. As the singer says, storytellers \'conquer people by telling them of battles, kings, elephants and marvellous beings\'. Enard both indulges and mocks this brand of traditional \'Orientalism\'. Like Michelangelo’s project in Constantinople, it remains an alluring fantasy.\
RaveFinancial Times...[a] poignant and engrossing tour of his Irish literary hinterland ... In a book that folds astute literary criticism into a moving meditation on the gifts (and debts) that parents pass to children, Toíbín shows that this trio of titans all rebelled against their fathers, yet repeated the pattern of their lives ... Toíbín summons both generations in essays written (as he says of Wilde’s prison testament De Profundis) \'with passion, intensity and some wonderfully structured sentences.\'
PositiveThe Financial TimesThe prowess of his storytelling makes [Faulks] a graceful guide ... Cunningly crafted, Faulks’s fictional bridge between the French past and present — and, discreetly, between Jewish and Arab legacies — has its sentimental side ... most readers will forgive him the novelistic sleight-of-hand that brings his people, and his histories, together.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
PositiveFinancial Times\"Murakami addicts love this slow-burn storytelling, which has (as Menshiki says of his beloved Jag) \'a charm all its own\'. Newcomers, however, may initially feel bemused ... Murakami’s reality has many sides; some plain, some fancy. Translators Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen capture every colour on this mind-altering palette ... Murakami’s \'Land of Metaphor\' remains a country where wonders never cease.\
Edouard Louis, Trans. Lorin Stein
PositiveFinancial TimesHistory of Violence can likewise pack total immersion and cool detachment into a single page. As translator, Lorin Stein keeps faith with its rawness — and its refinement. Even in his panic, Édouard must analyse ... A novelist as much as a memoirist, Louis can even imagine the life of the rapist ... As a fictionalised record of a rape, Louis’ novel addresses the particular harm inflicted by sexual violence and its official aftermath.
PositiveThe Financial TimesA novel of grand ideas, powered by a ravenous curiosity about the role of the technological revolution in our private and public woes, Phone nonetheless bristles with anxiety about the abuse of 'intelligence' — in medicine, in warfare, in software, in love ... For some readers, Self has a reputation as the scarily esoteric Mycroft Holmes of fiction. Never fear: his hurricane of eloquence blows in terrific passages of satire, comedy, even suspense — not to mention his pitch-perfect ear for the jargons and lingoes of modernity. Besides, from the closeted warrior to the eccentric doctor bonded with his on-the-spectrum grandson, Phone deploys several motifs that might feel at home in an upscale TV drama ... Everything flows into everything else. Yet Self’s refusal to lay down anchors in this sea of words may let inattentive passengers drift over buried treasure ... Phone is a glorious trove of sinister marvels, but it might send the incautious user slightly mad.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Trans. by Edith Grossman
MixedThe Financial TimesEver since Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977), Vargas Llosa has ingeniously deployed the erotic intrigues, high-society secrets, and pot-boiling plot twists of the Latin American telenovela. He spices this latest brew as robustly as ever. The wives’ transgressive trysts betray a soft-porn sensibility ... By no means his subtlest work, The Neighbourhood — punchily translated by the ever-excellent Edith Grossman — still pulses along with a zest and cunning not commonly found among octogenarian Nobel laureates.
Michelle de Kretser
PositiveThe Financial TimesHer writing captures, with unflagging wit, grace and subtlety, the spiritual as well as physical journeys of people on the move — between cultures, mindsets and stages of growth ... Devotees of the tight-knit, linear plot will, as often with De Kretser, trip over her loose ends. Sentence by sentence, though, she sustains a unity of voice and eye ... De Kretser’s writing can drive that wedge into the most ordinary of scenes.
RaveFinancial TimesJoseph Cassara, an American writer much too young to know first-hand the scene he resurrects, pitches his debut novel as a period piece that rescues a lost world from condescension, contempt or outright oblivion ... For all his immersion in the ball scene of the 1980s, Cassara never overdoes the period costumery of sequins, glitter and gold lamé.
RaveThe Financial Times\"Eclectic in her tastes, centrifugal in her style, Smith as an essayist loves to stretch her frame. Moving from wit towards wisdom, she explores the rolling hinterland behind our fads and trends ... Her bracing pluralism mandates respect for the art of freedom that crosses borders and, fearlessly, creates all sorts of other people ... the category of \'classic English essayist\' — in the vein of Hazlitt and Orwell, Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter — may well look as quaint to the digital natives she strives to understand as that of, say, \'leading Byzantine silversmith.\' No matter. Beyond doubt, she has joined their company.\
RaveThe Financial TimesHarris excels in close-focus scenes of history being written — or rather, scrawled, ripped up and redrafted — in a blur of small-hours wrangles, whispered rumours, midnight phone calls, sleepless vigils and cross-town dashes, amid a tobacco fug of fear, panic and confusion … We know what took place at Munich — Harris sticks close to the facts, cleverly inserting his fictitious backroom duo into the corners and corridors of power — and we know its outcomes...Defying hindsight, Harris generates a galloping sense of excitement and doom as the betrayal of the Czechs — their delegates forbidden even to witness their nation’s dismemberment — emerges as the price tag for Europe’s stay of execution … With moral subtlety as well as storytelling skill, Harris makes us regret the better past that never happened — while mournfully accepting the bitter one that did.
RaveThe Financial Times\"This second novel in her quartet of seasonal fictions mines down through the ‘tangled-up messed-up farce’ of headline news, first to recent history, then deeper into a bedrock of myth … Smith...never becomes a slave to topicality. Her many-layered artistry softens rage or sorrow. These novels seek to bring our time and deep time together … If Ali Smith’s four quartets in, and about, time do not endure to rank among the most original, consoling and inspiring of artistic responses to ‘this mad and bitter mess’ of the present, then we will have plunged into an even bleaker midwinter than people often fear.\
RaveThe Financial Times\"...both a wide-angled panorama of American life between 1947 and 1971 and a vastly magnified chamber-piece ... [the] crowning glory of Auster’s career ... Riddling and playful, Auster scatters these shards of autobiography among his band of parallel personae. Crucially, he also widens his reach and broadens his horizons. His trademark post-modern sorcery and irony coincide with full-throated, open-hearted social realism in a classic American vein ... 4321 fizzes with the sheer pleasure of a writer routinely praised or censured as a coterie puzzler, an existentialist dandy, showing that he can out-Roth, out-Updike and out-Franzen the greatest as a richly textured chronicler of modern America in flux, in transit and in crisis ... Does 4321 live up to this embedded manifesto? It does, and on a heroic scale. Like avant-garde composer John Cage (whom he quotes), Auster insists that \'The world is teeming: anything can happen.\' In times of \'menace, despondency, and hatred,\' the music of chance can be the sound of hope.\
RaveFinancial TimesOut of his protracted torment Matar has forged a memoir that in its nuance and nobility bears unforgettable witness to love, to courage and to humanity. The Return is also a subtle and nimble work of art. It shifts elegantly between past and present, between dialogue and soliloquy, between urgent, even suspenseful action and probing meditations on exile, grief and loss...The Return deserves a place in the exalted company of those who 'hope against hope' — as Nadezhda Mandelstam called her great testimony of the loss of her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, to Stalin’s gulag.