RaveHarper\'s MagazineGaddis has an incredible knack for the cadence of spoken English, and once a reader catches the rhythm of the book the difficulties largely disappear. I don’t want to overstate this point. These novels demand more effort on the reader’s part than the average page-turner. Above all, they demand attention—a commodity in little supply these days ... There was something exciting about returning to books that asked something of me. And they rewarded my investment copiously. I count my second time through these novels—like my first—among the great literary experiences of my life.
PositiveHarper\'s ReviewCarlisle has set out to write \'a Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard,\' which means that she cannot take the typical approach of standing complacently outside the events of his life, recounting them chronologically, with the historian’s retrospective knowledge of what they all mean and where they will lead ... It’s a theoretically sound approach, but the result is sometimes awkward ... While Carlisle emphasizes the importance of movement in Kierkegaard’s thought, her book can sometimes be curiously static. It is at its best when providing more straightforward explication ... [Carlisle] has an absolute mastery of Kierkegaard’s life and works. At the same time, she is a lucid and stylish writer who shares some of her subject’s suspicions of the academic approach. She succeeds wonderfully at what is obviously her chief goal, which is to give us some sense of why Kierkegaard’s task mattered so urgently for him, and of why it might matter for us.
PositiveHarpersBarton is extremely good at untangling what is actually known from what can be reasonably inferred from what has been lost to time. He provides a clear overview of differing scholarly views on biblical history, and his book will have much to tell both curious secular readers and the faithful about the patchwork process by which a compilation that is so often treated monolithically came to exist ... If there is a bête noire in this admirably evenhanded work, it is the fundamentalism that \'idolizes the Bible yet largely misunderstands it\' ... Barton concludes with the inspiring idea that the \'very difference\' between what is actually in the Bible and \'what Jews or Christians instinctively believe or do\' might be a source of nourishment[.]
Agustín Fernández Mallo, Trans. by Thomas Bunstead
MixedHarpersAs is often the case with certain kinds of experimental literature, the books often give off the vague hint that some kind of preconceived operating principle is at play, along with the stronger hint that knowing the details of that principle would not add all that much to the reading experience ... What distinguishes Fernández Mallo from many artists...is that he is on the side of the mess ... But he doesn’t treat chaos as a grand social metaphor or a particular feature of our overmediated modern life. In keeping with his day job, he sees it instead as an enduring fact about physical reality. He wants to show us this fact—and speed is one way of doing that. The strategy comes with a price. These books read as though they were written quickly. The prose is not bad, exactly—there are none of the outright barbarisms that appear throughout Knausgaard’s work—but it is strikingly flat ... Fairly obvious errors are sprinkled throughout ... I often thought while reading these books, the internet is like this: we jump from absurdity to absurdity, never staying anywhere long enough to feel too deeply about it; we have the gnawing suspicion that the whole thing could stand a good fact-checking; meanwhile, some guy is quoting David Brooks quoting Malcolm Gladwell, and we’re not entirely sure whether he’s trying to be funny or profound ...At some level, Fernández Mallo knows all this. The irony of his monument to disorder is that it’s at its best precisely when it is most coherent—in the first volume, when the image of the Shoe Tree provides a structure for all the motley parts, and in the third volume, when Fernández Mallo recounts a unified story that is pregnant with meaning. It is in these pages that we see a strange and original sensibility at work—one that combines a deep commitment to the possibilities of art with a gonzo spirit and a complete absence of pretention—and get the chance to spend some intimate time in its company.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksOver the past two decades, at the end of a long career as an academic political philosopher, John Gray has written a series of short, studiously unacademic books ... Though they vary in emphasis and point of attack, all advance the same essential argument—that our ostensibly secular post-Enlightenment age has failed to face up to the full implications of its materialist worldview, that we remain haunted by the ghosts of Western Christianity ... The latest book in this series, Seven Types of Atheism, is a sustained effort to do just that ... his categories usefully remind us that different ways of being an atheist exist and demonstrate how much most of them owe to the traditions they claim to reject ... Gray insists that he does not mean to convert anyone, but he obviously finds these thinkers far more congenial than the other five \'types\' ... Many readers will disapprove of the idea that withdrawal from public life in search of inner freedom might be an appropriate response to political instability ... I suspect that few people will take up his invitation to look upon our current political situation with equanimity. There is undoubtedly something admirable in those who can view their own suffering sub specie aeternitatis, but it is a different matter to view the suffering of others this way, particularly when their suffering vastly exceeds your own.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken
RaveHarper\'sIt has been tempting to read My Struggle, as most reviewers of its earlier volumes have done, as a kind of logical terminus for all these tendencies: the pattern of autobiographical memoir; the plotlessness; the specificity; the detailed description of everyday life; the much-remarked-upon slowness ... But this is only part of the story. A countervailing impulse has run through the novel’s history, an impulse not just to depict the disenchanted world into which the form was born but to critique it. With notable frequency the novel has taken disenchantment itself as its subject, and it has asked the uncomfortable question of whether the kind of heroic greatness that was literature’s primary concern from the Iliad up to Orlando Furioso is even possible under the current dispensation ... the most striking thing about Karl Ove’s relationship to the passing days he so carefully describes is that he finds them mostly insufferable ... there is no question that Knausgaard was deeply familiar with Hitler’s life story before he started writing his own, or that he takes the parallels between the two seriously ... a book in which contradictions abound, a book with moments of great insight and moments of great banality, a book where one thing often seems to follow another for no reason at all, a book that aggressively courts insignificance.
Mathias Enard, Trans. by Charlotte Mandell
RaveHarper\'s\"Énard is himself a translator of Persian and Arabic who has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, and he writes with an obvious love of the region, a deep knowledge of its history, and a great despair over what has become of it during the past decade ... There is something Sebaldian in Ritter’s encyclopedic erudition and the seamless way that he shifts between personal and historical memory ... A novelist like Énard feels particularly necessary right now, though to say this may actually be to undersell his work. He is not a polemicist but an artist, one whose novels will always have something to say to us.\