RaveThe Guardian (UK)Ellmann’s polemic is a medley: a wickedly funny, rousing, depressing, caps-driven work of linguistic gymnastics hellbent on upbraiding the deleterious forces of the prevailing misogyny, focused especially on the US ... Blistering statements cover a clutch of cultural reference points from Aristophanes to Audre Lorde ... entertaining without being haranguing. Attentively negotiating a bleak world, the sentences remain joyous constructions ... At their brightest, Ellmann’s own pyrotechnics are ones to savour.
Alaa Al Aswany, tr. S. R. Fellowes
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... a multi-voiced work of elation and despair — as the power of the people briefly triumphed over an oppressive and unscrupulous autocracy — and a vivid take on both sides of the revolution, from the perspective of those who either enthusiastically supported or violently opposed the reforms ... a lively, versatile and frequently chilling English translation by SR Fellowes ... above all, a robust and brave undertaking. For this reason a surreal air hovers above the prose, which veers between uneasy irony and straight-out reportage, even though the characters are fictional ... Aswany’s skewering of the excesses of corruption is written in a deceptively benevolent style, further enhancing the background noise of disquiet and outright terror, which grows almost deafening as the novel progresses ... If the novel has a major flaw it is that Aswany relies too much on stereotypes to create a sense of depth and connection. Yet despite this The Republic of False Truths is a blistering, bold dissection of a failed revolution, and of the disenchantment and dissent that inevitably follow.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... intense, darkly humorous and frequently claustrophobic ... Storey’s extravagant talents and work ethic emerged not only from a desire to transcend the limitations of his background but out of a sense of atonement, of compensation, a crushing feeling of guilt. Presented frankly, sometimes obsessively, in A Stinging Delight, the theme threatens to overwhelm the book, which is at its best in his broodingly atmospheric descriptions of mid-century Wakefield and the failing schools of postwar London’s East End ... some of the more repetitious and circular passages could have done with further pruning ... Brutal, lyrical, self-absorbed but never self-pitying, Storey’s writing has often received the dread term \'Lawrentian\' – once a badge of honour, now relentlessly unfashionable ... There is so much to admire of Storey’s life and times, aside from his immense gifts, and to reflect on: not least the sheer \'bloody-mindedness\', as he terms it, that helped him to endure those crippling periods of depression. That socially divisive system of schooling, introduced when he was eleven by the Education Act of 1944, did enable his \'escape\' from his birthplace. At the same time, it alienated him from the environment that inspired his greatest achievements.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)The itemization of exquisite beauty (and its counterpart, magnificent ugliness) coupled with the randomness of fate and the ambushes of the past are hallmarks of Levy’s work ... Levy’s writing mirrors life’s incautious and uneven trajectories. Eternally curious and wide-ranging, her reported conversations with and observations of both strangers and intimates weave a wayward trail through a dense forest ...This is a work about what it means to be a writer: its reinventions, isolations, self-interrogations, its shifting penury and riches, both emotional and financial ... The outcome is a glittering triple echo of books that are as much philosophical discourse as a manifesto for living and writing.
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)... deliciously untamed ... is in essence a fantasy, one that contains sharp observations about the perennial issue of women whose identity becomes subsumed into that of one-sided carer. Yoder writes as well on this as she does on the paradox of motherhood, with its simultaneous feelings of alienation and deep bonding. The neatly portrayed cult of \'moms\' is revealed as a community of emptiness behind the claustrophobic nature of competitive friendship groups ... Ultimately, Nightbitch tasks herself with filling this vacuum into empathy, alongside a new, controversial direction for her neglected artistic expression. This final aspect of the book appears too contrived and ostentatiously earnest. More pertinently, her recollections of growing up in a religious community in the Appalachians and of her own mother, a talented opera singer who thwarted her career, ably stitches together the threads of rebellion and rude resistance that propel the novel on.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)A mixture of creepy fireside tale and ecological forewarning—shot through with supernatural horror ... If the plot is complex, the writing is a linguistic delight ... If there is a nagging doubt about Alexandria it is with the gender essentialism that underpins the book—man is fire, woman is water, woman is seductress, man is seduced: each has their fixed place in the world. But as a story about human failure and enduring belief, it succeeds. Kingsnorth’s novel is both of time and out of time, and it posits some of the most urgent questions of this millennium: where are we going, and what will become of us.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... both emotional and austere, a work of dignity and of unravelling. Spare and yet spiritually nutritious, the book serves as a reflection of Adichie’s turmoil in loss. It is also an exquisitely written tribute to her father, James Nwoye Adichie, who was Nigeria’s first professor of statistics : his self-effacement, sense of calm and wry humour shine through.
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)If 2020 has sometimes felt like living in an alternate universe, in which its exhausted inhabitants have grown inured to shocks and surprises, then it is a relief — of sorts — to turn to John Lanchester’s uncanny tales and find plenty there to disquiet ... a sequence of very clever, very modern \'entertainments\'.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)... [a] capricious, dark and often very funny novel ... Blending the satire of the cult film Clueless with the melancholy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and the shock tactics of Joyce Carol Oates’ Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, the book is a shimmering, self-conscious work about the mysteries and betrayals of adolescence ... All this is breathlessly narrated by the under-confident yet incorrigibly truth-telling Eulabee. From the first chapter, with Vida’s artful use of the first-person plural, Eulabee sets herself and her friends up as creatures of myth ... We Run the Tides memorably details the cruelty and unintentional wisdom of adolescence—the horror of being excluded, along with the suppression of individuality that comes as part of being a gang.
PositiveProspect MagazineFamilies and the tensions between the individuals within them lie at the heart of Moss’s writing. There is also a powerful connection to often-uncongenial landscapes, early human settlements and the ghosts—imagined or real—contained there. This plays into Moss’s wider theme of national identity, which she has called \'an invented tradition that depends on myths of origin.\' ... While fluent and absorbing, the effect of the multiple perspectives can sometimes be slightly diluting ... The younger children are the key to the book: sensitive Jack, who narrates the final dramatic scene; Izzie, whose nighttime imaginary terrors are about to be realised; and Lola, who carries the heavy disappointments of someone twice her age, and is as cunning as a feral animal in human form. In Moss’s assured yet brutal landscape, it is the wild, not the meek, who shall inherit the earth.
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)Wyld’s previous, award-winning novels have been largely set in Australia. While she moves into more ambitious territory with the different time sequences of The Bass Rock, the pull of that country remains ... Dealing with the consequences of abuse, estrangement and male violence, Wyld is unhesitatingly brave in her writing, especially on fear, disgust and skewed power. She has an instinctive understanding of the interchangeability between humans and nature that can border, thrillingly, on animism, as in the work of her contemporaries Sarah Hall and Sarah Moss ... Domestic violence, or the threat of it, floods the pages of The Bass Rock. It is best realised in Ruth’s sections — Wyld’s delineation of the era is cut-glass perfect: its clipped emotions, inherent sexism, automatic silencing of and putting away of \'difficult\' children and women ... Sarah’s sections of the novel are less successful, despite giving a rich framework to subsequent generations of women performing acts of righteous vengeance against oppressors ... While at times clumsily overwhelming in its relentless summoning of the living and the dead, Wyld’s intentions are clear; and her prose shines, even as it devours.
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, trans. by Michele Hutchison
RaveFinancial Times (UK)The English translation of The Discomfort of Evening, the debut novel by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and a bestseller in the Netherlands, was recently longlisted for the International Booker Prize. It’s not hard to see why. The book, a juddering account of the fallout from a sudden family tragedy, is intensely raw, shockingly graphic, and as memorable a debut in Dutch literature as Nanne Tepper’s similarly feted novel of sibling dysfunction, The Happy Hunting Grounds ... Rijneveld’s prose combines the formality of ceremony with a startlingly uninhibited obsession over the bodily functions of animals and humans living in uneasy proximity to each other: a challenge for any translator and one that Michele Hutchison embraces with verve ... A book this unvarnished has noticeable flaws. Aspects of Jas’s fixation on the physical can be violent, concerning and unpleasant to read. Lovelessness constantly swims unhappily to the surface; religious tropes abound, from the plague of foot-and-mouth disease to small, nasty sacrifices re-enacting the biggest loss of all — Matthies. There is a horrific sexual violation that appears to have no consequences. One begins to be anxious for any animal that crosses the children’s path ... Yet there is a bold beauty to the book, which for all its modernity seems to be set in a different age of automatic religious belief: the immensity and mystery of the universe coexisting alongside the claustrophobic community of farm, church and school. By using Jas’s everyday world as a metaphor for loneliness and fear, Rijneveld has created something exceptional.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... darkly adventurous ... The differences between the Chief’s sons are distinctively drawn ... Hughes has fashioned a sturdy drama that, despite the plot twists of its last section – which centres on a court case and a betrayal – is more powerful in its first two thirds...Undertones of the Cain and Abel story rumble appropriately beneath the surface, most vividly realised in an electrifying volte face during which the sympathetic local priest, Father Shaughnessy, makes his own unexpected confession ... Hart’s embittered anguish is resplendent throughout; his role in one of the book’s key scenes makes for an outstanding passage of manipulation, misery and culpability. Even the kindly priest is not without his baser side when it comes to the final question of the wretched Hart’s choreographed redemption ... The Wild Laughter’s reckoning is as much concerned with these far-reaching effects of history as with the ongoing brutality of austerity.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)...a richly absorbing account of Siberia over the last 250 years, as Roberts zigzags her way from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east ... Roberts’s research – she appeals for information in local newspapers, on radio stations and TV – gives rise to memorable encounters and interviews ... Roberts locates another lost piano in Kolyma’s principal town, Magadan, after spotting it in a 1940s photograph of the prisoner-constructed Magadan theatre, where persecuted musicians had no choice but to play. The Lost Pianos of Siberia is as much elegy as detective story.
Jon Fosse, Trans. by Damion Searls
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... featuring not a single full stop throughout ... Such is his command of the rhythm of his prose, nimbly and hauntingly translated by Damion Searls, that the omission is barely noticeable, and after a while, engagingly welcome. The work simply loops and flows. The style is formal, yet with a sense of restlessness. As for plot, there is plenty ... Fosse’s fusing of the commonplace and the existential, together with his dramatic forays into the past, make for a relentlessly consuming work: already Septology feels momentous.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)...novelist Samantha Harvey has produced, in The Shapeless Unease, a slim, intense memoir about her own year-long experience of nocturnal unrest ... Interrupted sleep is pretty much the norm for our high-velocity 21st-century life, but the miserable bagginess of days on end faced with no respite of oblivion, however brief, is a torture Harvey describes with a combination of desperation, wry humour and — despite the scarcity she is subjected to — a deeply felt sense of life’s abundance ... As a writer Harvey gets at not just the heart, but the soul of things ... Writing and nature — in particular outdoor swimming, dragonflies skimming over a summer lake — and the realisation that \'no things are fixed\', are all conveyed in prose that glows off the page: an exacting inquisition of the self leading to imperfect peace.
RaveFinancial Times...vital ... Frenkel gives us an urgent narrative of the crucial years of her life. After a brief, gorgeous opening explaining how she became fascinated with books as a child growing up near Lodz, we follow her through her studies at the Sorbonne and apprenticeship to an antiquarian bookseller ... No Place to Lay One’s Head has an appealing style, captured in an assured translation by Stephanie Smee ... the general melancholy that saturates No Place to Lay One’s Head becomes sharply specific, and renders Frenkel’s inscription in the first edition of her memoir, appended in the dossier at the end of the book, unbearably sad.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)Cummins has, essentially, written two novels in one — and both are one-dimensional — which makes for an uneven, if propulsive, read. American Dirt is a thriller and a page-turner; Lydia and Luca must outwit and outrun the cartel as they undertake a dangerous and seemingly impossible journey to a precarious new life in the US ... It is also an attempt to portray both the parlous situation for journalists in Mexico and the desperate reasons why so many people from Central America risk their lives by crossing Mexico to enter the US as undocumented migrants ... American Dirt, with its portentous title, cannot be classed as a political book, for all its timeliness and humanity. Valeria Luiselli’s 2019 novel Lost Children Archive, about what happens once migrants reach the Mexican-American border, is a profoundly more nuanced and urgent work ... Yet Cummins, in addition to an undeniable flair for drama, conveys well the shifting allegiances of characters who find themselves in changed circumstances, and is good on the sensorial aspect of the gruelling odyssey: hunger, boredom, fear, exertion and depletion, overlaid with the often fiercely beautiful sights and smells of Mexico. Notwithstanding the book’s flaws, Cummins ensures that we root for [these] lives right up till the end.
RaveThe Financial TimesNeither Hakan nor the reader can calculate how much time has passed in his wanderings; or which expanses of land he has passed through. Guided by the stars, or the remembrance that his brother once told him that a new sun rises each day, he blends with his surroundings, half-man, half-animal, covering himself with the pelts of the creatures he has killed and eaten in order to survive and protect himself against the freezing winters and devastating summers ... the only reference to significant historical incident such as the American civil war, for example, is made when Hakan briefly encounters soldiers merely described as men dressed in blue and grey. Ultimately it is not his quest to be reunited with his brother that impels the novel: it is a good old-fashioned yearning of the human spirit, and a beautifully commodious meditation on its absolute unknowability.
Virginie Despentes Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Virginie Despentes has delivered both an achingly cool punk burlesque and a satirical epic with nods to Rabelais and Swift. A foul-mouthed skewering of the morass that is modern society, and France in particular, the book is translated by Frank Wynne with such dynamism and verve that the reader can barely keep pace ... At once a novel of the internet age and a withering examination of France’s political polarisation and the evisceration of leftwing intellectualism, Vernon Subutex 1 scrutinises misogyny, pornography, poverty, religion, race, neo-fascism and gender issues. Its hipness recalls the films of Jean-Jacques Beineix and Leos Carax, making for an intoxicating blend of the retro and au courant.
PositiveThe Telegraph (UK)This bold, self-assured debut has already been compared to Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities ... Her plot is beautifully simple, if not stunningly original ... Waldman, with ferocious intelligence, presents various archetypes of the endless soul searching - or complete lack of it - affecting every strata of American life at the time ... The book is marred by a convoluted epilogue set at 20 years’ distance, leaking with the sentimentality so admirably absent earlier on. However, Waldman’s fearless dissection of the commodity of public sorrow is to be applauded, along with the brilliance of her writing.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)... a darker and much bigger beast. With scenes of chilling brutality — including the brilliantly orchestrated assassination of a bewildered, elderly senior cleric and his attendants and, in another chapter, the attempted gang rape of a major figure — it is not a book for younger readers and the publishers are keen to point this out ... In a novel packed with multiple stories and inspirations, the most significant and moving element is that of the terrible estrangement between Pan and Lyra ... Engrossing storytelling aside, The Secret Commonwealth is a vivid portrait of the often painful transition to adulthood and autonomy, laced with a moral purpose that is not without ambiguity or doubt.
PositiveThe Telegraph (UK)Historical incidents made vivid by eyewitness accounts inform Antopol’s fluent first collection of stories: a contemporary study of assimilation, the past and the uneasy relation to it – often in the form of deliberate amnesia – of subsequent generations ... Antopol crosses America, Europe and Israel in these tales. The energy of Tel Aviv contrasts with the unruffled serenity of Vermont, the grey elegance of Kiev against frenetic New York. She uses lovely, unusual metaphors: hair is the colour of cola; a voice \'clear as a ballad\' ... The final piece, \'Retrospective\', is one of the book’s most poignant.
PositiveThe Telegraph (UK)Shani Boianjiu’s is an extravagant talent, which, while unevenly displayed, makes for a memorably bold novel ... In places a trance-like evocation of war without combat, power without accountability, her detached, flat prose casually combines the whiny, nasal quality of adolescence with passages of Homeric lamentation ... Each girl narrates in turn, and although one of the book’s flaws is the ennui-riddled sameness of the voices, the figures become reasonably distinct ... The characters’ suspension of identity and of history in a country which has been 70 years at war leads to a work mixing existentialist study with controlled absurdism ... Somewhere between the sardonic humour of Etgar Keret and the epic storytelling of David Grossman, Boianjiu has created a brave, beautiful political literature that is entirely her own.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)Ostensibly favoured, Elf possesses a death-wish that persists throughout Miriam Toews’s remarkable novel, which, ironically for a book with self-annihilation as its subject, bursts with ramshackle, precious life ... Full of eccentricities and casual, apposite quoting of literature, its tragicomedy and humaneness recall the best of John Irving ... Toews’s great generosity as a writer is to have opened up her own and shared it with us.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)...a thoughtful investigation ... Nayeri robustly challenges the perceived obligation on the displaced person to revoke or tone down their former identity; to assimilate, to be a \'good investment\' for any country that has admitted them. It is a provocative work. The early part of The Ungrateful Refugee is richly expressive of what was left behind ... This wide-ranging, reasoned book is no polemic: its observations are self-reflective, contemplative and significant.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)...a deeply felt, forensic yet ultimately empathetic examination of human motivation and its attendant sorrows, which is as much a social history of the early 20th century as it is the story of one family and its secrets ... [Cumming\'s] intermeshing of art, time and memory is superlative ... The repercussions are interrogated by Cumming with a hungry precision up to her last, revelatory pages.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)...[a]compact and fearsome new novel ... O’Brien’s prose is as unwaveringly assured as ever...yet its customary operatic style is toned down. We are left with the bare, ghastly details of human endurance ... The depravity of certain scenes and the commodiousness with which they are rendered have aspects of the retelling of myth ... Yet we are jolted into the necessary reminder that this is the present day ... Maryam’s account (conveyed in a hidden notebook) of her ordeal is both succinctly detached...and wildly hallucinatory ... In this impeccably written and indelible novel, [O\'Brien] brings her juristic yet merciful eye to an ever-wider expression of the deep injustices of female and human circumstance.
RaveThe Financial Times...[a] fine new novel ... The Dutch House is a novel that assures Patchett, alongside John Irving and Anne Tyler, a place as one of the foremost chroniclers of the burdens of emotional inventory and its central place in American lives.
RaveThe Financial Times...a work resplendent in ambition, humour and humanity ... Written in a dizzying stream-of-consciousness style of internal haranguing and methodical multitasking, Ducks is loosely rooted in the quotidian ... There is also a free-floating anxiety, familiar in its insubordination to logic ... \'The fact that\' the narrator keeps repeating, because facts are all she seems to be able to keep hold of. Facts, puns and wordplay jostle with simultaneously laugh-out-loud and sombre reflections on anything from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series...to Meryl Streep’s beleaguered character in the romcom It’s Complicated, through Obamacare, Trumpism and the flickering progress of the local capture of a runaway mountain lion ... it is the great female modernist writers of the early 20th century that Ellmann fits with most assuredly. Her detailed observations on time and memory evoke Katherine Mansfield’s short stories, her interior soliloquies Dorothy Richardson’s epic Pilgrimage series; but the lodestar is Virginia Woolf. In Ducks, Newburyport Ellmann has created a wisecracking, melancholy Mrs Dalloway for the internet age.
RaveThe Financial Times\"In her new book Obreht has swapped the tumultuous history of the former Yugoslavia for that of the American frontier. What she retains, in addition to infectious storytelling and a split, double narrative, is the strong sense of superstition which pervades the earlier fiction; a form of magic realism is at work here, which does not detract from the harshly explicit truths transmitted about the nature—and the price—of survival ... Nora and Lurie share a similar brittle, quick-witted and sardonic outlook, and although their paths will not converge until the book’s highly charged ending, their stories keep nudging up against each other along the way ... Obreht is as engrossing with her depiction of the colourful and disparate encounters experienced by Lurie and Burke as she is on the claustrophobia of small-town rivalries. In these fledgling communities lawlessness and occultism hold sway just as the modern age—that of telegraph wires, railroads and the burgeoning capitalism of a gleaming new century—fatefully beckons.\
RaveFinancial Times...extraordinary ... Pine’s short, gleamingly instructive book, both memoir and psychological exploration, transcends the trope of the misery-as-therapy narrative so radically that it becomes something else entirely ... It is disarmingly bold in its candour, discussing, head-on, taboo subjects such as alcoholism, addiction, infertility and menstruation ... Pine is unapologetic about her confessions while at the same time never underestimating the painful exactitude involved in bringing them forth ... In every piece Pine is simultaneously detached and vitally present ... This exposure of herself and of a misogyny that is identifiable and endemic, is, to put it mildly, brave, even reckless.
Ma Jian, trans. by Flora Drew
RaveFinancial TimesThe wit has returned in China Dream — a short, highly satirical work no less excoriating than any of Ma’s previous fiction, translated in a graphic, stylish manner by Drew ... Not for nothing has Ma been called both the Orwell and Solzhenitsyn of Chinese literature; his depiction of a totalitarian state is lancing ... Scenes that are fantastical but also based on reality are Ma’s speciality ... Believable and brutal, this is Ma’s boldest and, despite its brevity, most elegiac work.
Lena Andersson Trans. by Saskia Vogel
PositiveThe Times Literary SupplementAndersson (well served by Saskia Vogel’s subtle translation) is an electrifying writer when she is not in potboiler mode. The prose’s many wincing banalities render convincingly Ester’s unhappy, immature imagination which is tempered by the forensic cruelty used to depict her suffering ... humiliating, frustrating – and horribly recognizable. The end makes full use of the anticipated pyrrhic victory, and it is desolating to witness: a human plight that again brings to mind Auden, this time his definition of poetry as \'the clear expression of mixed feelings\'. One expects to meet Ester Nilsson again in a few years’ time.
PositiveFinancial TimesLively and enterprising ... Gordon can seem too eager to affiliate her subjects and sometimes gives her overt admiration too free a rein...Yet when not so obviously in thrall, the portrayals are vivid, the research and its conclusions adept ... Most stirringly, all five [women] had an eye to empowering future generations.
RaveFinancial Times\"Reading a Hustvedt novel is like consuming the best of David Lynch on repeat ... Ideas somersault nimbly in the novel as memoir jostles with memories. Primarily, SH writes of a past of navigated possibility from a future of unforeseen jeopardy: in 2017, the established novelist laments the current political scene of progression lurching backwards. It is a point at which both SH and her creator appear, in this intense, high-spirited Bildungsroman, to have come full circle.\
RaveFinancial Times (UK)... an energetic, fascinating and deeply researched book which is as much about the \'strange pause\'—the slippery, ambiguous hinterland in literature and history between the end of the Romantic era of Shelley, Byron and Keats, and the beginning of the Victorian age—as it is about Letitia Landon herself. In 1820s and 1830s London, Miller uncovers a thriving publishing culture of hacks and literary wannabes with L.E.L.—the persona indistinguishable from the person—at its centre ... The story of L.E.L. is salacious enough, but Miller’s skill is to address and capture the transient nature of Landon’s fame—an instantly recognisable prototype of self-made celebrity—to retrieve her from history’s doldrums, and demolish the mocking which continued for decades ... the success of this vastly intriguing book is that by its end the reader is of the same conviction.
Han Kang, Trans. by Deborah Smith
RaveFinancial TimesAn astonishingly rendered work of fiction, as much a meditation as a narrative ... Precise, subversive, fierce and deceptively opaque ... There is a heaviness in these pages, teamed with wonder; a fragile coexistence from sentence to sentence ... is not without hope. In its own way the novel is a sublime expression of grief’s incongruous byways, its busy inactivity, its larger, more elaborate intrusions.
PositiveNew Statesman[Ghost Wall] combine[s] the components of a thriller with a nuanced understanding of history ... Moss’s sensual writing recalls the late Helen Dunmore ... a bold, spare study of internecine conflict.
PositiveFinancial Times\"... sumptuous ... Several months pass between the opening chapter of Late in the Day and its close — not even half an orbit of the sun — but its changes are so multifold and profound that the reader emerges from the novel’s pages as restless and purposeful as the characters contained within them ... Hadley’s acute consideration of domestic drama and its sober richness has something in common with Margaret Drabble’s early novels...\
PositiveThe GuardianIn his new work, another clever, cutting riff on the book-within-a book...the anonymous protagonist speedily evolves from routine sociopath to extreme psychopath ... For a while it’s all a little bit Martin Amis, a little bit Bret Easton Ellis, until the novel changes gear with the introduction of a third-person narrative and his latest obsession, Frances, whose life is derailing with an alarming propulsion ... The bloodier the deed, the more the main character’s notebooks fill up. All roads lead to Frances, and to the denouement of her—and her pursuer’s—now creepily symbiotic narrative ... this strangely congenial thriller-cum-treatise on urban disaffection, modern relationships, misogyny and madness, ends on a note of provocative ambiguity.
Christina Hesselholdt Trans. Paul Russell Garrett
RaveThe Financial Times\"Companions, translated with care and élan by Paul Russell Garrett, is not at all a gloomy work. Hesselholdt’s touch is light, even mocking, as much as her subject matter is grave. There is a dancing intelligence roaming free here, darting back and forth among ideas and sensations. Her novel is a deceptively nonchalant defence of modernism and a work of pure animation.\
Dorthe Nors, Trans. by Misha Hoekstra
PositiveThe GuardianCertainly the formal recklessness of Nors’s writing is most apparently effective in the novella – essentially plotless, it is enriched by its own contrivance ... This 200-page lamentation on contemporary loneliness would quickly grate if it were not for the benevolent ingenuity of Nors’s writing. When Sonja’s narrative breaks free of the corner she has boxed herself into, the prose swoops and soars like her yearned-for whooper swans. It’s at these moments that Nors’s reinvention of experimental fiction is so marvellous: the remainder of her backlist should not disappoint.
Négar Djavadi, Trans. by Tina Kover
RaveFinancial Times (UK)...a novel teeming with perspicacious observations and hypotheses on exile, statelessness and reshaping identity. Tina Kover’s dynamic translation into English is a high-wire act, capturing all the animation and vigour of a breathless narrative voice ... The novel pulsates with life, but does not shirk from violence — seen mostly from a child’s perspective. The gorgeous prose, the heady elements of magical realism...takes the edge off the relentless turmoil described throughout. Similarly, Djavadi’s humour is infectious, whether overtly satirical or simply wisecracking ... Though by no means a failure, the wildly persuasive expressiveness of the first half of Disoriental does flag during its second. Nevertheless, it is an absorbing, important and noteworthy counterpoint to western accounts of this period of Iran’s history and its abiding aftermath.
PositiveThe Financial TimesProbing, psychologically unafraid, witty and often agonised ... In a novel seemingly without a distinct structure, Heti’s strength — and most profound connection with the reader — is that of her narrator’s dialogue with herself. As an interlocutor she is steely and ruthless. She undermines but also, conversely, emphasises her rationality by consulting fortune tellers and Tarot readers ... With its mix of autofiction and philosophy, Motherhood is no manifesto but an essential — and often exasperating — exploration of uncertainty and of the art that can be created from it.
Leila Slimani, Trans. by Sam Taylor
RaveThe Financial TimesIts multiple appeal is clear from the first page: Slimani’s style, enhanced by Sam Taylor’s graceful, unobtrusive translation, is calm, matter-of-fact and controlled, with only a hint of the deranged unravelling to come ...a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit or a howdunnit, it is primarily a cool, dispassionate, and thoroughly uncomfortable look at class, culture and gender, particularly the eternally knotty subject of motherhood...repressed chaos is constantly at work in the book, scrabbling beneath the formal exterior ...it is redolent of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, or Genet’s The Maids.
PanThe GuardianPat is having ‘apart time’ from wife Nikki for unspecified reasons, although his uncontrollable rages drop a heavy hint. In anticipation of the ‘silver linings’ future when they will be reunited, Pat undertakes a manic exercise regime and reads the classics of American literature, searching for a happy ending. The ensuing send-ups of books including The Great Gatsby and The Bell Jar form the novel's wittiest passages. The rest is a schmaltzy, sentimental journey to recovery, all relayed by Pat in an irritating idiot-savant manner.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveThe Financial Times\"Superbly translated by her usual collaborator Susan Bernofsky, the novel naturally forms part of a loose trilogy with the anterior works ... There’s a melancholic undertone to the novel, murmuring beneath its condensed, liquid prose. Erpenbeck is scathing about the absurdities of a nightmarish bureaucracy that appears to deliberately wrongfoot refugees ... If the efforts of Richard and the majority of his German friends have the element of a utopian vision, its roots surely lie in the cataclysmic decades they have endured, and the relative prosperity of their post-communist lives. Deceptively unhurried, yet undeniably urgent, this is Erpenbeck’s most significant work to date.\
RaveThe Financial TimesThe register alternates swiftly between quirky and pathos, and a kind of joyous gallows humour ... Reading the novel is a reminder, too, of how well American writers portray small-town life and culture — the boredom, the restlessness, the reluctant homecoming ... The formal sweetness of these attempts to hold back the dread to come is like a chain of fairy lights in the darkness, with Khong displaying a deep understanding of the way in which memory humanises and connects us individually, communally — and without which all becomes chaos.
MixedThe Financial TimesFor Ryan, savagery and wonderment coexist unashamedly in his accounts of private, apparently unremarkable lives conducted under small-town public scrutiny ... As a portrait of the psychological cruelties meted out in a marriage, the novel is highly convincing ... The book’s pronounced fatalism is perturbing. At times it has the tempo of a tragedy as momentous as anything in Thomas Hardy, at others it comes across as outrageously manipulative. This is nowhere more apparent than in Ryan’s somewhat stereotyped and awestruck portrayal of the traveller community ... There is a perversity in delineating the suffering of female characters so unsparingly, while painting them (Mary, Breedie) as angelic. It’s not to say that the men aren’t affected, but their suffering is not accorded the same quasi-religious, ennobling quality. Ryan’s ability to engage the reader is without question but his dogged emphasis on penance, culminating in Melody’s ultimate sacrifice, strikes a lasting and profoundly discomfiting note.
RaveThe Financial Times...this account of her journey back to equilibrium, assisted by her closest companion, literature, is as powerful as any of her award-winning fiction, with the dark fixture of her Beijing past at its centre ... Though billed as a consolation for 'like-minded readers,' the book does not neatly fall within such a narrow definition. As with Li’s fiction, her struggle to admit life over death is at times traumatic to read, all the more so because there is a barely concealed agony in the scrupulousness of its measured words ... Plangent and precise, this is Li’s personal anatomy of melancholy.
PositiveNew StatesmanMargaret Drabble, for her 20th novel, has chosen for its title and epigraph a refrain from Lawrence’s valedictory The Ship of Death: there are numerous endings in the book, but it is Lawrence’s restless revolt against mortality which hovers spectacularly throughout ... Fran is an archetypal Drabble character, an older version of her heroines from the 1960s and early 1970s: educated, dogged, middle class, self-improving ... Mordant wit and a strong humanitarian concern coexist in this novel; Lawrence’s ship of death becomes a metaphor for desperate people fleeing war and famine in rickety boats, washed up on inhospitable European beaches ... In terms of its plotlessness, The Dark Flood most closely resembles Drabble’s 1980 book, The Middle Ground, a series of contemplations on urban disaffection. While her writing can be high-handed, the novel is a significant achievement, admirable and truthful.
Yan Lianke, Trans. by Carlos Rojas
RaveThe Financial Times\"\"\"...a hyper-real tour de force, a blistering condemnation of political corruption and excess masquerading as absurdist saga ... Robustly translated by Carlos Rojas, the novel is a grotesque entertainment on a Grand Guignol scale, as well as a pointed indictment of what the real Yan, in his afterword, terms \'mythorealism\' — an exaggerated reality of deliberate, collective stupidity and counterfactuality, strikingly similar to today’s concept of \'fake news\' ... we can marvel at his Swiftian sardonicism, yet its basis, however irrational, is reality. To this end he has written a novel which extends beyond China’s moral contradictions to the ethical ambivalence of our times.\"\"
RaveThe Guardian...[a] near-faultless debut collection ... This pervasive undercurrent, the fallout from Ireland’s boom and bust, permeates the book ... a quietly dazzling collection.
RaveThe Financial Times...[an] extraordinary novel ... the book is no worthy historical tract or slice of polemic, but rather a living, breathing organism shaped by its three main characters ... [a] highly suspenseful drama; measured, intoxicating and tragic.
RaveThe Financial Times\"...the book comprises a series of (literally) intramural soliloquies, some as brief as haiku, often disarming and always slightly disturbing. Although it is styled as a short-story collection Pond’s sharp, fragmentary form eludes any obvious classification ... To describe Bennett as a bold writer is an understatement. Her use of monologue has both the sinister swagger of Browning’s dramatic verse and the sense of depersonalisation that hovers throughout Beckett ... The idea of personhood as an elemental force is central to the book, especially as realised in the figure of the self-sufficient, inaccessible woman, unkempt in appearance, abstracted in thought, and sometimes capriciously contrary.\