PositiveThe New Statesman (UK)Reading Carrère’s books can feel like an expansion of the boundaries of literature, and of your mind. In the case of Yoga this process is an ironic one, given that its central event is a major depressive episode that shrank the range and movement of Carrère’s hyperactive, roving intelligence almost to nothing ... Moving from laughter (the retreat is comedically awful) to despair, and arriving at redemption, Yoga conforms to a classic narrative pattern that is rarely seen in real life ... Carrère’s work is obsessed with truth, yet repeatedly demonstrates the ways in which writing, particularly autobiographical writing, so often fails to uphold it. Nowhere in his body of work is this more on show than in Yoga ... His insistence that he is telling the truth can get irritating, but his failure to do so is not a fatal flaw. Instead it adds an interesting dimension to his project – though I might feel very differently about that if I were his subject, or his ex-wife, and not just his reader.
Fernanda Melchor, trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Paradais has a tighter focus than Hurricane Season (both are superbly translated into English by Sophie Hughes). Its sentences are less breathless and serpentine, but its subject matter is equally challenging ... Incredible dark momentum ... The thematic violence of Paradais is duplicated at sentence level ... Amid this assaultive flood, however, fragments of a higher, more baroque register emerge ... These unexpected flourishes complicate the story, suggesting the presence of a less neutral narrator than much of the text has us suppose. That Melchor provides no other clue to their identity only adds to the disconcerting effect.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)... presents as horror but spirals off, with mixed results, in several unexpected directions: it’s a critique of true crime and the impulses that inspire it, a fragmented character study and a metafictional puzzle. This last strand is the most intriguing, landing the novel in an interesting space somewhere between Atonement and the Serial podcast ... Darnielle likes obscurity and the gaps between facts, where rumours swell like mushrooms. Devil House brilliantly captures the pre-internet spread of news in the way the Milpitas murders accumulate weird details, especially in school playgrounds ... He evokes a powerful sense of place, too ... In these sections the writing is at its most exciting, Gage slipping unexpectedly from the plain, doomy register of true crime into something mock-medieval that conveys the teenagers’ shared dreamworld...I loved this part of the book. Elsewhere, I struggled. The medieval flourishes are a bold move for a true crime author and one of the questions Devil House seems to pose is: can Gage Chandler write? A recycled detail suggests not ... Planted errors like these are fun to uncover. It’s harder to get enjoyment from Gage’s tendency to state the obvious and habit of formulating metaphors that cloud more than clarify ... Is this Darnielle inhabiting a bad writer, or just bad writing? ... the most enjoyable elements of Darnielle’s novel are the blank spaces – maddening, but as true as it gets – left in its accounts of Gage, the White Witch case, and whatever really went down in the Devil House.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... stunningly good ... Lish writes with strong, relentless economy, like a boxer punching a bag. Hemingway comes to mind ... The often laser-like focus of Lish’s prose invests everything he pays attention to with importance, whether it’s the moment Gloria’s fingers can no longer grasp a fork, preparing a boat for winter, or skating home from a thrash concert. Extraordinarily, he has written a 440-page book with no flab ... frequently surprising, which is one of its strengths, but Lish also makes some odd decisions ... Personally, I find Lish’s writing so involving that if the price is an occasional dollop of undigested research, or a miscalculated point of view, I’ll pay it. I also willingly followed the turn the novel takes in its final quarter, becoming more like a crime thriller than a family drama or bildungsroman. It’s not completely unexpected – male violence towards women stalks the book throughout – but the totality with which Lish commits is shocking. That said, what occurs is extraordinary but not implausible, and he is as adept at handling murder and vengeance as he is the horrors of degenerative illness, the costly labyrinth of medical insurance, and the floundering of a teenager who, one way or another, loses everyone he cares about. At the end of the novel, when Corey decides his next move, it might not be what every reader wants for him, but it makes sense as the answer to a life of such cruel questions.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... while Katie Kitamura’s writing is of the Orwell-approved \'clear pane of glass\' school, the cumulative effect of her deft, spare sentences is paradoxically confounding; what appears to be a straight path somehow becomes a labyrinth ... addictively mysterious ... its specificity comes to feel universal, too. If it works for you as it did for me, the narrator’s atomised experiences, her inability to forge a coherent narrative from her life, will feel compellingly strange as the pages rapidly turn – but also uncomfortably familiar, the book’s final intimacy being the one between narrator and reader.
Mariana Enriquez, tr. Megan McDowell
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)This is the second collection of hers to be translated into English by Megan McDowell, following 2017’s Things We Lost in the Fire, but in fact The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is the older of the two, having first appeared in Argentina in 2009. It isn’t quite as strong as the other, but it does contain a handful of brilliantly unsettling stories. If you want to wince, flinch, and momentarily panic when you switch on a light, this is a book for you ... While much of horror’s subject matter is universal – a fear of spiders, or being pursued, or, of course, death – it’s often the culturally specific elements that make it memorable ... The other part of the book that will stay with me is its depiction of male violence against women ... Tricking us into waiting for a ghost to \'put out its head\', Enríquez surprises us with real horror.
RaveThe New Statesman (UK)... a hugely fascinating and inspiring study of seven stories by four great Russians ... Saunders’ professorial persona is so likeable, so smart and astute—throughout this book he proves again and again what a weapons-grade noticer he is—that it was a page or two after I’d read and instinctively agreed with this line that I felt compelled to go back and think harder about what it meant ... All writers write with readers in mind, to a varying extent, but Saunders’ reader service operates at a radical level.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It is weird, and Lacey has fun with the weirdness, using Pew to plumb the oddness and hypocrisies of this nameless, supposedly devout small town in the American south. Lacey has always been an economical writer, and she is as taut as she’s ever been here: each of the book’s seven chapters is a day long and it moves relentlessly towards the Forgiveness festival, the nature of which remains menacingly unclear ... The competing mysteries Lacey sets running in Pew make her readers hypervigilant ... Pew is a confusing fable—there’s too much messy realism in it for its lesson to be easily understood—but it is within its messier reaches, and its concerns with inequality and prejudice, that its boldest and most brilliant effects are found.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)She is good on the ugliness of crying ... a mysterious search and a journey that doesn’t reach its destination ... The broad range of her inquiry, which can move from Donald Trump to Byzantine lycanthropy in the space of a sentence, is one of the book’s primary pleasures. But its scattershot nature disrupts the through-line it also wants to develop ... Accompanying her throughout all this is the waxing and waning moon that Christle calls her \'despair\'. She favours that word, she explains, because \'depression and suicidal ideation and anxiety all cast a staged or laboratory light\', which seems to be both a confession and a withholding. This doubleness is problematic; a fault line at the heart of her book ... the fragments mostly stay scattered ... is interesting enough that Christle needn’t feel anxious about its fragmentation. But the one serious cost of its diffuseness is that its autobiographical elements – particularly those concerning Christle’s \'despair\' – occupy an emotional no man’s land ... Christie offers no such \'proper perspective\', but as a selector of unusual, arresting details, she is exceptional. Everyone who reads her book will find something that stays with them.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Like Gaitskill, Flattery’s dominant interest is in people who are deeply estranged not just from their surroundings – they are isolated even in crowded rooms, and the ones in relationships are the most isolated of all – but from themselves, too ... Flattery has said she writes about \'young women searching for meaning they might never find\' ... Flattery knows how to mine these emotional states for humour (this is a very funny book) without diluting their pathos (it’s a very sad book, too). At its best, which is often, Flattery’s prose has a thrilling relentlessness and rhythmical snap to it; it pummels and excites ... Although they deal largely with disordered thought, disappointment, the failure to connect and pain, the arc of many of these stories is not as grim as you might think ... The sense remains, though, as in the stories and novels of Jean Rhys, that the mistakes we have witnessed are likely to be repeated.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Barrett evokes the lives of his young characters – bouncers, petrol station attendants and minor criminals – with great skill, describing sensitivity and harshness in a way that doesn\'t overdo either side of that equation ... His stories invite second readings that – the mark of really good work – seem to uncover sentences that weren\'t there the first time around. Chekhov once told his publisher that it isn\'t the business of a writer to answer questions, only to formulate them correctly. Throughout this extraordinary debut, but particularly in the excellent stories that bookend it, Colin Barrett is asking the right questions.
MixedNew StatesmanAs usual with Ellroy, numerous disparate intrigues and cases are introduced that turn out to be tightly interconnected ... in This Storm Ellroy seems in a rush; beyond the book’s primary mysteries – a triple homicide involving two policemen, the identity of a decade-old corpse found after a landslide, and the location of a hoard of Nazi and Soviet gold – subplots are resolved almost as soon as they come to light ... It’s as if Ellroy, or his editor, is worried we won’t be able to keep up ... At the level of the sentence – a level of great importance for Ellroy, whose style has always been one of his most distinctive attributes, even as it has moved through several iterations – This Storm is of lower quality than his previous books ... Ellroy has mounted some incredible expeditions to the interior of the Great Wrong Place, but at this stage his return to Los Angeles looks more like the Great Wrong Turn.
Gregor Von Rezzori, Trans. by David Dollenmayer, Joachim Neugroschel and Marshall Yarbrough
RaveAsymptoteThis book is an extended elegy for the death of history, literature, and Europe ...There is an honesty that burns through this work. It wants to but can’t be serious. It is the funniest elegy I’ve ever read. It is perhaps at its best when it is imitating bad writing, i.e. commercial novels and films. These imitations are vaudevillian, grotesque, and vulgar, like mean-spirited playground bullying. They occur in a postmodern world beyond the distinction of high and low culture, where intellectuals are frauds who are just as narrow as the philistines they disdain, and where literature devolves into caricature, because the novelist can’t seriously claim to transcend himself and represent humanity ... This book is as much a novel as it is a repudiation and critique of novel-writing. It is explicit about its attempt to reinvent the novel. As I have tried to make clear, nothing about this novel is transparent ... As much as it wants to please the reader, and succeeds in doing so, this book also intends to hurt.\
PositiveThe Guardian\"[Lee] has a pronounced ability to take normal, even mundane situations and nudge them out of true, propelling his characters into positions of strangeness and danger that they are often fatally slow to identify ... Lee has darkly comic fun with the authoritarianism such bodies can exhibit ... the tight focus Lee brings to bear on [disintegration of suburban security] increases the tension, and makes it impossible for us as readers to accurately gauge each situation we encounter, or, increasingly, endure alongside James.\
PositiveThe Guardian\"Marcus’s prose is deceptively straightforward, precise but chatty, and often a lot of fun – which is helpful, albeit in a confusing way, when the subject is the physical or psychological collapse of a person, or even of society as a whole. In stylistic terms he has come a long way from the disturbing, almost alien syntax of his earlier books... and his characters now feel less like malfunctioning allegories and more like flesh and bone ... Is this a bleak book? Absolutely. But there’s beauty in it, too.\
RaveThe GuardianLike much of Eisenberg’s previous work, the stories in Your Duck Is My Duck are concerned with inequality, disaster and the sense that we’re pretty deep into the end times, a position that’s rarely out of fashion, but that feels particularly apposite now ... Eisenberg is as alive to the potentialities of language as any contemporary writer I know. This is what makes her work so funny and exciting, and is also what provides its philosophical heft. She is fascinated by its limitations: her stories are full of incomplete sentences, misunderstandings and double meanings. In Merge, the collection’s longest piece, the insufficiencies of language are probed to a troubling extent ... the longer story’s power proves that Eisenberg doesn’t need dystopias: she’s perfectly capable of summoning apocalyptic atmospheres by focusing her extraordinary talents on the world right outside the window.
PositiveThe GuardianAlex Pheby puts us disturbingly close to this troubled individual, but pointedly opts for third person instead of first: throughout this compelling novel the space between reader and Schreber becomes a sombre reminder of how alone we all are ... Pheby’s writing is elegant and straightforward, but the discontinuous structure of the book is not, and the clarity of the prose can be deceptive: certain characters and events presented as real turn out not to be; others we are left to wonder about ... Fittingly for a book about a psychoanalytical subject, Playthings is swollen with buried truths ... Every action, every situation, is influenced by what lies beneath it.
RaveThe Guardian...[an] excellent short story collection ... in each Eugenides deploys his pronounced gifts for comedy and characterisation at the same time as he builds an overwhelming atmosphere of suffocation. It is hard to say exactly why money exerts such fascination for the author. It can efficiently propel a story towards crisis, of course, but beyond that it emerges from these pages as the central subject of American life, driving the country but also infecting its citizens with a kind of mania.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveThe Guardian\"...[a] short, terrifying and brilliant first novel ... Over the course of the novel the landscape becomes almost as prominent a character as Amanda and David. The rural Argentina that Schweblin portrays is an eerie place ... The way Fever Dream is written invests every scene with suspense and makes a tantalising riddle of the book’s meaning. Its events play out somewhere between fears about GM crops (Argentina is one of the world’s leading producers) and folk superstition ... Fever Dream’s ambiguities, and the intricate psychologies with which Schweblin invests her characters, mean that rereading proves rewarding even when the suspense is removed.\
Alejandro Zambra, Trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveThe GuardianThe conceit is playful, gimmicky even, but its results are not. By being forced to reread each piece several times, and think about how it may be better organised, you discover resonances that might be missed on a first pass. Reading Multiple Choice, we all become its author ... It is funny, melancholy, surprising. It is silly at times, profound at others. Its interactivity will entertain you, and might just change the way you think about fiction.
PositiveThe GuardianParker’s narrative might jump from the chaos of an Afghan firefight to a Sainsbury’s car park and back again, but it never feels all that puzzling: his prose, economical but evocative and at times wincingly graphic, confidently shepherds you through the ruptured timeline. What might cause puzzlement, however, is his decision to rotate the first-person narrative voice not between characters, but between objects involved in Captain Barnes’s story ... Would the book be more successful if Parker had chosen a different narrative method? I think so. But considered apart from its executional difficulties, Parker’s decision to let the objects around Barnes do the talking makes a lot of sense. After all, Barnes is himself an object for much of the book.