RaveThe Wall Street JournalLewis Hyde’s new book is so counterintuitive, so bracingly clear and fresh, that reading it is like leaping into a cold lake on a hot hike. It shocks the mind. It flushes all kinds of monotony and mental fatigue right out of your system. I have filled a notebook with things from this book I am determined to remember, which is quite a paradox, given that it’s a book about forgetting ... A Primer for Forgetting constantly weaves and unweaves its own realizations. It is less argument than art ... Early in this wondrous book [Hyde] quotes a letter from the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who is writing partly in praise of the attentive oblivion necessary for any great creative accomplishment (she is reading Charles Darwin) and partly in praise of the Oblivion that the right attention enables: \'What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.\' That would be an apt description of this entire book. I can’t tell you how many times I put it down to stare out the window. I can think of no higher praise.
Lars Petter Sveen, Trans. Guy Puzey
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewTurning the last page, a reader will have little sense of what Sveen himself believes with regard to Christianity. Its neutrality seems to me a strength. Another is its indirection. Focusing primarily on minor characters from the Gospels—the Samaritan woman at the well, a crucified thief, the disciple Andrew—the book conjures more power from (and for) its shadowy central figure than it might have. It remains a story rather than a lesson. And yet, the book is almost thoroughly inert. The voices, from an abused woman to a murderer to a child, all sound exactly the same. The prose is nowhere distinguished and is occasionally absurd ... The tone aims at the severe clarity of a parable and is most effective in this mode ... But then come moments of obvious modern psychology or, worse, \'poetry,\' and the effect is shattered.
PanThe New York Times...Apostle seems fundamentally confused about its aim and audience. Readers familiar with the material will be frustrated by the unfocused scholarship, not to mention the jagged contrasts in tone. And many an amateur is going to plow into a sentence like this — 'Traditionalists such as the Maccabees overthrew the Seleucid modernizers seeking to bring Judaism into a place of accommodation with Hellenism?.?.?.' — and reach for the remote.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis is in many ways an excellent biography: compulsively readable, elegantly assembled (future biographers should study Mr. Bate’s method of proceeding thematically rather than strictly chronologically), and sensitive to the many aspects of Hughes’s grand and complicated character. But your final judgment will partly depend on whether you feel that Mr. Bate or the Plath/Hughes myth is master of ceremonies.