MixedThe Guardian (UK)C is a 1960s-style anti-novel that\'s fundamentally hostile to the notion of character and dramatises, or encodes, a set of ideas concerning subjectivity. On the face of it, though, it\'s a historical fantasy, sometimes witty and sometimes eerie, built around the early years of radio transmission ... Though Serge holds the foreground, it\'s plain from early on that the novel is chiefly structured by the idea of transmission and reception, which serves as a metaphor for, among many other things, and very roughly speaking, an implied relationship between language, technology and subjectivity ... The near-Joycean scale and density of all this is truly impressive, as is McCarthy\'s ability to fold it into a cleanly constructed narrative, which has its boring stretches but also moments of humour and weird beauty. Yet its mind-blowingness as a reading experience depends on the reader\'s appetite for certain types of analysis. Armed with various concepts from Heidegger, Freud or Paul Virilio, say, it would be possible to unpick its implications more or less indefinitely, but there\'s a dispiriting feeling that the book has been reverse-engineered with an eye to achieving just that.
Fleur Jaeggy Trans. by Tim Parks
PositiveHarper\'sJaeggy handles this plot with a fine contempt for both sentiment and conventional modes of dramatization...Even so, the torpid world of the Bausler Institut, where for the older girls \'a sort of senile childhood was protracted almost to insanity,\' comes to life in Miss X’s compact monologue. The sentences are short, epigrammatic and filled with deadpan humor as well as something more wild and brooding. Miss X breathes the same air as the narrators of Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard, but her manner, which somehow doesn’t seem mannered, is all her own. Muriel Spark’s more astringent, nouveau roman–style performances may be another starting place for comparisons—or maybe Ottessa Moshfegh’s delicious cruelties. Either way, Turgenev, in another life, might have found much to admire here.
PositiveThe London Review of BooksConversational seeming but neatly put together, with a controlled graphomaniac flow, and projecting a self-mocking but uncensoredly opinionated personality, her writing has voice in abundance. She’s good at delayed tumbles into bathos ... Page by page, she works up a confiding tone without trying too hard to make you forget that she’s performing; the effect is like reading a gossipy round-robin email from a tremendously entertaining and well-read person you’d have no qualms about hanging with but might think twice about bothering if she was making notes ... Not all of the pieces are 100 per cent successful. ‘Summer in Samarkand’ drags a bit and sometimes treats Uzbekistan as the kind of joke country that it might strike one as being if one went there in one’s mid-twenties to avoid teaching first year Russian.
MixedHarpers... massive ... [Figes\'] central figures are an apt choice, because Pauline’s singing tours and Turgenev’s wanderings took them to every corner of the Continent ... Historians might quarrel with Figes’s relative neglect of politics, and of other kinds of globalization—colonialism, for instance. Other readers might wonder how some of his big-picture material connects with the group biography that structures the book, though Turgenev played a part in debates about copyright, Pauline Viardot was a skillful navigator of the changing music business, and Louis—an art critic, among other things—left his mark on the culture of gallery-going. Figes draws attention to Pauline’s achievements, but as you’d expect from a historian who’s best known for his work on Russia, his book’s presiding spirit is Turgenev’s ... It’s hard not to see a subtext here. Figes—who is British but took German citizenship in response to the Brexit referendum result—sees a lot to applaud in the Russian writer’s mild liberalism.
RaveFinancial Times\"Turbulence is written in a similar idiom and has a similar structure to All That Man Is, but it pushes the minimalism further. The result is a more obviously elegant book, in a way that’s artful rather than arty, with little appreciable loss of narrative drive ... Each story runs to only nine or so pages, and one of the impressive things about them is the speed and deftness with which Szalay convinces the reader that he knows what it’s like to be an Indian guest worker in Qatar, an upmarket journalist in São Paulo, or a prosperous Senegalese businessman ... Page by page, though, Szalay’s mixture of directness and withholding looks increasingly masterly.\
MixedHarper\'s... a very elegant, very tactful book that sticks closely to the paper trail and more or less skips the last twenty-five years of Powell’s life. It’s essentially a history of A Dance, and instead of soiling her hands with analytical grunt work, Spurling guides the reader to a wider view of the question of Powell’s oddly elusive personality, which can’t always be distinguished from the related question of quite what he was up to in his books ... Spurling is impressively severe about the urge to treat fiction as disguised autobiography, but the story she tells accounts convincingly for Jenkins’s mixture of sociability and reserve ... it’s a virtue of Spurling’s book that it lets you see Powell as both a convivial chap in tweeds and, as Jorge Luis Borges wrote of Henry James, \'a resigned and ironic inhabitant of Hell.\'
RaveLondon Review of Books...it’s clearly part of Burns’s project in Milkman to redescribe the Troubles without using such terms as ‘the Troubles’, ‘Britain’ and ‘Ireland’, ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’, ‘RUC’ and ‘British army’ and ‘IRA’. On the other, the narrator’s mad, first-principles language, with its abundance of phrases in inverted commas and sudden changes of register, is also used to describe the inner world of a young woman ... It’s a brilliant rhetorical balancing act, and the narrator can be very funny ... What’s extraordinary about all this, though easy to overlook on a first reading, at least until the final stretch, is the density and tightness of the plotting behind the narrator’s apparently rambling performance ... What’s more, the comic unfolding of the plot runs counter to the narrator’s pinched sense of what can and can’t be said and done in her neighbourhood, and, after a chilling final encounter with the milkman, there’s a darkly happy ending ... as a reader you feel you’ve earned the novel’s more optimistic resolution, and that Burns, with her wild sentences and her immense writerly discipline, has too.
Javier Cercas, trans. by Frank Wynne
PositiveLondon Review of Books[Cercas] often presents himself on the page as a bit of a neurotic bumbler, the better to work doubts and second thoughts into his formidably polished storytelling ... The resulting book has three strands: the story – or stories – that Marco told about himself at different times in his life; the truth as far as Cercas was able to ascertain it; and the meta-story of Cercas’s investigation, including his shifting feelings about Marco, which range from empathy to revulsion and lead to further self-questioning ... Cercas worries away at these questions as he goes about telling Marco’s story, which he does with great skill, some impressive detective work and an irony that’s sometimes amused and sometimes appalled ... There’s also a fair amount of essayistic musing that sometimes seems merely to be ringing the changes: Marco as novelist, Marco as Nietzschean self-creator, Marco as Don Quixote ... Marco’s standard line in those days was that Spanish democracy had been founded on lies, and that the country would never be at peace with itself until it faced up to the past and took corrective action. Cercas doesn’t disagree, though he points out that the pact of forgetting was a result of all too vivid remembering ... Cercas stops just short of making Marco more than a symbol of a national conversation that came to nothing.
PositiveFinancial TimesDepicting all this with measured social realism is very much not what deWitt is all about. What he aims for, and often achieves, is a kind of deadpan zaniness ... there’s also a great deal of funny, knowing dialogue ... One danger of this sort of writing is superciliousness: the sense you get from, say, early Beckett that the writer feels superior to the footling conventions of realistic fiction. To his credit, deWitt doesn’t give off that feeling ... deWitt runs into another danger — that of cuteness. As he looks more seriously at his characters’ alienation from their own feelings and from society at large, and even offers them a minimal redemption, against a stylised European backdrop, it’s hard not to reach for comparisons with Wes Anderson ... Another problem is that deWitt doesn’t seem 100 per cent fluent in the wordy, old-fashioned style he sets out to parody. Sometimes the clunkiness seems deliberate and inspired .... Quite often, though, it’s hard to tell whether he’s making an arch joke about pretentious word-use, or if he’s simply landed on the wrong word.
PositiveThe Financial Times[The writing in The Reservoir Tapes] has a more spoken cadence and a wider range of tones than the novel\'s steady circling and repetitions allowed. The absence of reports on fox cubs and the like underlines an emphasis on the Peak District as a post-industrial place shaped by quarrying and mining and reservoir engineering rather than an instance of Nature with a capital N. At the same time, the stronger focus on indiviual characters, and the many different ways in which the stories are set up, deliver, more of a sense of McGregor\'s versatility. in these expanisve miniatures it\'s easier to see how good he is at individual voices and at deadpan jokes as well as deadpan sadness.
PositiveThe GuardianThe new book delivers at least two big surprises. The first is that it starts out as a pastiche of a well-known genre, the big-city private eye tale, though with a psychedelic twist: Pynchon's private eye is a permanently stoned hippie based in southern California, ‘circa 1970’. The second is that it more or less stays that way, with no sustained excursions into mathematical logic or mind-bending shifts of narrative direction … Pynchon keeps his detective plot moving with the aid of drug-based humour, replacing the traditional chloral hydrate-laced whisky with a joint soaked in PCP … Behind a lot of Pynchon's complication, there's a simple sadness about lost possibilities and the things that America chooses to do to itself.
RaveThe GuardianThe narrating voice belongs to a ‘we’; ‘we’ huddle in a doorway and see people come and go...Perhaps it makes no difference if "we" are ghosts or hallucinations, living or dead: the kinds of people that McGregor is making speak are only very intermittently visible to inhabitants of the regular world either way … In five long sections, each structured around a stage in the corpse's journey to the coroner and cremation, McGregor assembles a fragmentary group portrait of these figures. The reader is shown what happens when higher-grade heroin arrives in the city after a drug drought, and most of the circumstances that led to Robert's death. There are flashes of bitter humour, usually concerning the authorities). But in general the tone is unrelentingly grim, though not in a hectoring way: you're simply immersed in the protocols of homelessness and addiction.
PositiveThe Financial TimesEverything leads up to a flurry of incident, which has its own satisfactions, but a lot of the pleasure comes from the ease and authority with which Egan inhabits the three principal characters, offering them complex inner lives while animating a social world in which a woman’s life could be derailed by a smudge on her 'reputation' and a man could be judged by the way he wore his hat ... Egan’s natural voice as a writer is pretty eloquent, which sometimes leads to problems of register ... And sometimes you get glimpses of the immense effort it must have taken to bring Egan’s disparate bodies of research ... Most of the time, though, it’s flawlessly done, with enough of a spin on the usual historical-novel tropes to make the whole enterprise seem surprisingly fresh.
MixedThe Guardian'What do they know of America who only America know?' ... In Netherland, O'Neill asks the same question, aiming to use cricket as it's played in New York to reveal fresh permutations of the national story that America tells itself ...the novel — published here with no particular fanfare — is now riding a juggernaut of transatlantic hype ... O'Neill clearly knows this world inside out, and he details its workings with great specificity as well as a feeling for its symbolic heft. On the other hand, the narrative is unwieldily organised, the supporting characters are underdeveloped and the dialogue is often pretty bad ...O'Neill's take on the notion of the American dream is both unsentimental and cleverly attuned to that notion's grip on the local imagination. Perhaps stories of striving immigrants and America's ambiguous promise speak to New York reviewers on frequencies inaudible to outsiders.
Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel
MixedThe London Review of Books1Q84’s first 600 pages are an imposing display of narrative engineering. Information is dispensed in a controlled, thrifty manner; tropes from high and low culture are handled with easy showmanship; further plotlines and curlicues are effortlessly thrown out … however, the last third of the book is a let-down, with all the narrative tension coming from the question of how long Murakami can keep throwing up obstacles to the long-promised Tengo-Aomame reunion … A lot of the social satire and criticism – on cults, on attitudes to women and sex, on competitions for first-time writers as mass media events – loses force outside its original context. As always, the experience is a bit like watching a Hollywood-influenced Japanese movie in a version that’s been dubbed by American actors.
RaveThe Financial TimesThe House of Atreus, in his telling, is one of the shadowy spaces filled with whispers and ghosts and troubling unvoiced memories that his imagination has always loved. It also has actual subterranean dungeons, and the hinterlands around it shimmer with the same kind of threat as a landscape in a spaghetti western … Orestes’s wanderings, punctuated by matter-of-fact killings, have considerable Game of Thrones appeal and play some of the same games with the audience’s sympathies. But instead of cheap narrative tricks and resolutions we’re left with images of desolation and thwarted love and the patriarchal family as an unsettled outgrowth of the ancient state.
J. M. Coetzee
MixedThe Financial TimesAs in the previous novel, everything seems concrete enough, and at the same time filled with strategic unreality — an unreality that seems all the more inscrutably symbolic, and, at times, quite funny, the more the writing brushes casually over it ... the novel often reads like pastiche: even the sentences seem deliberately constructed, from time to time, to resemble translations in a yellowing Penguin Classic. It’s a subtly different project from the strenuous fictions that won Coetzee his Nobel and two Man Booker prizes: still intense but, by his standards, a bit rambling yet oddly focused. Perhaps what we’re seeing is Coetzee having fun.
RaveThe Financial TimesShe writes terrific, attention-grabbing openings, and impactful last lines that don’t strain for a lapidary effect. Her damaged-girl deadpan snark is second to none, but she inhabits other character types with ease ... the authority of her storytelling means that she’s able to bring the reader along with her on some surprising paths to her typically desolate destinations ... there’s a danger of an effect that sometimes rears up in Todd Solondz’s movies: that of transgressively funny gloom congealing into an aesthetic mannerism instead of an elliptical commentary on the world that inspired it. Moshfegh’s impressively uncensored attack and her storytelling skills mean she usually skirts that danger.
PositiveThe Financial Times[Szalay] writes clean, unshowy sentences that move easily between the diction of casual speech and a more distanced tone. And he’s able to hold a reader even when there isn’t much going on, relying on assured storytelling rather than busy plotting ... Happiness isn’t much of a subject for a storyteller, and although the stories largely turn on depressing insights they aren’t ponderous or gloomy in the execution ... the book resembles a novel mostly in not having the kind of page-by-page density associated with short stories. But it’s part of Szalay’s appeal that he’s more interested in getting at the texture of experience than he is in stuffing it into elegant packaging.
MixedThe Financial Times[McEwan is] sufficiently a master of suspense to just about keep a reader wondering how he’s going to resolve the new book’s murder plot without doing too much violence to his source material. All the same, the high-wire act doesn’t really come off ... Nutshell relies instead on pure voice and quickly collapses into a mishmash of pentameter-ridden sentences and half-baked wordplay. An uncharitable reading would see its eccentric set-up as a way of refreshing some essentially banal observations. But perhaps it’s more a case of a bored master-carpenter trying his hand at embroidery.