PositiveLondon Review of Books (UK)There are moments when Selin’s literalist confusion between characters in fiction and in life is sublime ... One of the pleasures afforded by Either/Or is that of watching misogynistic portraits of women being taken apart. Another source of readerly satisfaction is the tale of a clever, gawky young woman, mistreated and misunderstood, finding her own way to tell her story ... The novel keeps playing with the chicken-and-egg question of whether the rules we live by begin in books or in life ... But if, as a young woman, you choose to say yes to whatever happens to you, you’re going to end up in some pretty dangerous situations ... Batuman writes brilliantly about what it is like to be inside a body newly being touched, and touching. Even though novels aren’t actually guidebooks, it does feel like the truth is being verified and put in a book ... The genius of the narrative voice is that Selin’s trust in the experiences she’s having doesn’t waver, however grim those experiences turn out to be. She’s like an uninitiated child narrator, unwittingly revealing the true horror of grown-up sexual relationships, except that she’s just turned nineteen and she’s started having grown-up sex. She doesn’t really understand how awful it is ... It’s a restaging of a sort of wilful ignorance, and even lack of curiosity, made possible, she suggests, by a canon of literary and philosophical works that are a barrier to thinking otherwise ... I get it, and I think it works, but something still niggles. It has to do with that idea of the mainstream.
RaveLondon Review of Books (UK)... a profound and very funny book about growth and promise, and how not to kill them off; about women reading and writing and how they survive ... One could, at least at first, mistake Checkout 19 for a story of coming-of-age via literature, a genre so often done badly that it can be hard to recognise when it’s being put to more imaginative uses ... But Bennett’s narrator turns out to be more interested in the shape the story takes than in what anyone is ‘really’ beneath the façade ... And at the edge of it all lies the abyss, twinkling, unplotted, blessedly free of narrative, inviting us in. One of the thrilling things about Checkout 19 is Bennett’s total contempt for the idea that storytelling is a kind of journey, or that it gets you anywhere, that naive and cosy notion that structures the narrative arc of so much contemporary fiction, often—though not only—by women.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)Srinivasan’s argument is at its most challenging to current feminist orthodoxies when she questions the injunction to \'believe women\' who accuse men of sexual assault. False accusations of rape are uncommon, yet in a society that imprisons a disproportionate number of black men for sexual crimes, feminists should be wary of siding with the carceral state ... Srinivasan is fond of the distinction between radical (good) and liberal (bad). But radical politics requires a programme. How do you liberate sex from the distortions of oppression? ... Perhaps this performative gesture towards possibility is necessary to save us all from strangulating pessimism, but the idea that the imagination could choose to make sex good again seems decidedly liberal to me ... As a teacher, Srinivasan needs to believe that making arguments has real-life effects. But I kept wanting an account of why the radical feminists of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s didn’t win.
RaveLondon Review of Books (UK)... gloriously camp ... A superb comic creation, Mrs Brock is a middle-class widow, given to playing the piano, knitting, and falling in love with her employers ... Aroon’s narrative unfolds in a style in which everything is explained and nothing is said...so that reading the book is rather like reading a detective story, in which clues have to be picked up and decoded, or a murder mystery (lots of people die in questionable circumstances), which you have to interpret backwards while you are reading forwards ... The novel is both funny and terrifying precisely because of the suspicion that Aroon knows exactly what is going on and that the only way to survive is to behave as though she doesn’t ... Good Behaviour evokes a vanished world, but it does so unclouded by nostalgia ... The vision is sharp rather than soft focus, revelling in ornate detail ... Keane’s scenes are full of brightly lit and oddly oversized features picked out against highly stylised backgrounds ... It’s like a scene from a Wes Anderson film. You are immersed in one set of details until your eye is drawn by a sudden shift in focus to what lies beyond or slightly outside the frame.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksLockwood expects her reader to work hard. The novel is all about the importance of being in the know, and it won’t work unless we are prepared to join in, parsing the anecdotes. There is something very winning about Lockwood’s abundant faith not only that we can but that we will follow her. She jollies us along, leading us through the language and styles of ever more evolved platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), without explicitly naming any of them. She trusts us to keep up to speed, to catch meaning off the current vectors and to keep it circulating ... a hybrid beast: it is an arch descendant of Austen’s socio-literary style—a novel of observation, crossed with a memoir of a family crisis, and written as a prose poem, steeped in metaphor ... This account of a descent through the circles of Internet hell is well done. If it weren’t for the fact that the aim of \'funnier\' has been so definitively undercut by the narrator’s exhausting search for something new and funny with which to feed the portal, we could call it very funny indeed. But it also feels a bit too easy ... Lockwood doesn’t attempt to resolve these contradictions. She isn’t interested in analysis but in registering experience as it unfolds. If, as readers, we are tempted to object that the opposition between creative life and murderous dogma is too neat, we are brought up short by the fact that the baby is real. And we should not be surprised by the aura of sanctity that surrounds the baby. The transcendent experience of the body, in sex, or pain, or love, has always been Lockwood’s subject. All along she has been interested in reaching the thing beyond words, that words can only point to. To that extent she is a religious writer ... Lockwood teeters on the edge of sentimentalism in her descriptions of suffering bodies, and she even repurposes a language of everyday \'holiness\' in which rituals of kindness and care are suffused with grace. But the hurt bodies are always a little too strange, a little too metaphoric, for us to read the sentiment entirely straight. The baby is uniqueness and heart and love, but she also stands for those things. It’s a balance between being and knowing that Lockwood pulls off brilliantly with a seriously weird subplot involving a little dog ... The portal and the baby halves of the novel are not resolved, but speak to and across each other rather like poems in a densely wrought collection. There are readers who will find this lack of resolution frustrating, but it feels a bit like real life to me.
RaveLondon Review of BooksSmith has produced one ‘seasonal’ book a year for the last four years, beginning with Autumn in October 2016 and ending now in high summer – or, to put it another way, beginning with the EU referendum and ending with Covid-19. The quartet is an experiment in writing about how we live now, and especially about how we register the language of politics in our everyday lives – how far we escape it, how much we are defined by it. Smith has us mostly flailing about ... Smith’s take on the relationship between people and TV is much odder than [the unstable boundary between her own thoughts and corporate thoughts] ... Then and now meet up in the plot of the novel, which picks up narrative strands from the rest of the quartet and drives them towards resolution ... Smith’s achievement is to have created a set of scenarios plotted with this clear purpose in mind and yet to treat the people trapped as functionaries in contemporary Britain’s unlovely state-corporate systems with tremendous generosity. She doesn’t judge them ... we watch Smith’s flattened, caricature people become allegorical figures – or rather, since the traffic goes in every direction, we watch them flicker back and forth between caricature, character and allegory ... Several reviewers have praised these highly realised and moving passages as the heart of the novel, but this seems to me to be exactly the wrong way to read the book – to hang on to the realist thread, and search for real-life emotional truths under all the punning and allegorical high jinks. Part of Smith’s point about this small portion of a history of the Holocaust is that it doesn’t get passed on in the novel ... Smith is brilliant on the sheer ambient logic of our surroundings, and the endless waiting imposed by ‘procedure’.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksOne of the achievements of the novel is to hold off the future for so long that when it comes we have almost stopped expecting it ... There is a great deal of harping...on Cromwell’s \'vile blood\'—his lowly origins as the son of a blacksmith and his inflated pretensions ... the details of plots and counterplots, with their bewildering lists of names...can seem overwhelming ... But the imbalance is not because there is too much history in The Mirror and the Light, but rather because there is too little of the \'real.\' It is difficult to believe in Mantel’s Cromwell anymore, and hard to care about him. The man we met in Wolf Hall was a subtle, ambitious, quick-witted, and oddly mysterious creation ... A thousand pages and more than ten years later, he has become, perhaps inevitably, a much more solid and predictable figure. Where once you could trick yourself into believing that you were reading about a real person, feeling his way with the help and hindrances of his desires, frailties, and limitations, it is now all too obvious that he’s a character in a book. His personality has been raised to the level of a theme, that of the commoner made good, a heroic cipher for the age.
RaveThe New York Review of Books... an extraordinarily artful fusion of third-person narration and first-person recollection ... One of the pleasures of reading Actress lies in the accuracy of Enright’s evocation of Irish culture over the last seven decades ... Enright manages to be both excoriating and mildly disdainful about the sexual politics of the 1970s because Norah has moved beyond it. We look through Norah’s eyes ... Enright is interested in agency (so closely allied with action and acting) and how to distinguish, in the mess of encounters with actual men, between choice and determination ... Norah can move through this world with a measure of ease. The rich mixture of tones in her voice (arch, hurt, humorous, biting) is a resource she has developed to survive in that climate, and it is one of the novel’s gifts to the reader. It’s the voice of a sharp-eyed young woman who simply has to get on with it ... Enright skirts close to the cliché that writing our own story in our own voice sets us free. But in doing so she reminds us that there is some small truth in the cliché.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksThe six autobiographical essays in this collection all turn on the need to extricate truth from the false and deceitful layers of fiction ... It is a staple of contemporary fiction to explore the manner in which we get trapped in fictions. What is unusual is not Cusk’s distrust of stories but her faith in truth ... Cusk’s essay depends on a distinction between story and truth, but it failed to get me on its side because I kept finding myself thinking about alternatives to Cusk’s version of the story ... Cusk wants us to read her reflections as constitutive of the \'really real,\' but too often they stay at the level of personal or subjective reality ... Cusk constantly struggles to balance the small detail and the big truth when she denies herself the room to roam into the fictive ... Throughout these essays, Cusk keeps conflating truth and honesty, but they are not the same ... Cusk knows that she has no more purchase on universal truth than the rest of us, and maybe that’s why she courts opprobrium in the way she does. She keeps claiming a right—to the role of seer—to which she knows she is not entitled.
MixedThe New York Review of Books\"Although a great deal of work has clearly gone into them, the essays have a sketchy, even unfinished quality, perhaps the result of having started out as a series of lectures. They are less biographical studies than Yeatsian portraits, pictures made by looking from different angles rather than analyzing. Tóibín’s refusal to pin his subjects down can be frustrating, but it is not unproductive. Echoes, patterns, and contradictions are left for the reader to assemble, in effect making us each our own impressionist portrait painter, or our own novelist ... Tracing the social web that connected this paternal trio (and kept them apart) offers a neat way into the cultural, political, and sexual history of Ireland’s eminent Victorians, their fraught and ambiguous sense of themselves, their class, and their relationship to England.\
RaveThe New York Review of Books\"Burns’s genius lies in entirely renouncing the classic truth-discovery plot. Detective work—even at its most Miss Marple, most feminine and unassuming—is completely unavailable to middle sister ... There were times reading Milkman when I thought I would get a cramp from laughing, but it is hard to do justice to the book’s humor in a review because much of it comes from the sheer length of characters’ speeches and of grown-up middle sister’s own free-wheeling, digressive, retrospective narration ... What’s exhilarating about reading ma is that, although we know she would not use words such as \'vermifuge,\' by heaping \'vermifuge\' on top of \'do I have to spell it out?,\' Burns gets us right on board with the shock and disapproval, even while we are laughing ... The novel is carried by the extraordinary dynamism of middle sister’s voice, full of syntactically vertiginous constructions and new coinages...\
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe surreal setup allows O’Brien to unfold a series of witty and well-observed set pieces ... What is startling about O’Brien’s portrait of all this feminine yearning and dissatisfaction is the way she manages to convey the sense that the spiritualism to which they turn is both entirely bogus and completely necessary ... Fidelma’s precarious status as both victim and perpetrator allows O’Brien to explore questions of responsibility and collusion, and the extent to which comfortable living in the West depends on discomfort, murder, and torture elsewhere ... But there is something about the characters themselves, and their relationships, which feels dated.