RaveDaily Mail (UK)Kingsolver fans are in for a treat with this latest novel — an electrifying reboot of Charles Dickens’ social epic David Copperfield ... Kingsolver charts the turbulence of the life that follows, with all its various achievements, addictions and disasters, in rollicking technicolour prose that simultaneously channels the imaginative vim of Dickens, the moral fury of his vision and the harrowing realism of her modern-day setting. Every sentence here sizzles.
MixedThe Telegraph (UK)She’s up to a few similar tricks in her latest historical romp, even if it mainly delights in the ability of a story to suggest one version of events while in fact constructing another. Shrines of Gaiety (such a deliciously ambiguous title) is set in the glitteringly grubby demimonde of 1920s Soho clubland ... The pleasure lies in learning not just who is double-crossing whom but, through Atkinson’s masterful backstage string-pulling, the extent to which the story is hoodwinking us ... Atkinson has researched her period to within an inch of its life. Much of the novel’s imaginative energies are devoted to slavishly carving out the topography of a now largely vanished London, the names of streets, hotels and restaurants doggedly reiterated. Period details glint like gems in the dust ... Characters don’t so much adopt new personas as blithely flit between various versions of themselves, as though in this age of collective reinvention a coherent identity is a luxury belonging to a more innocent era ... Yet while Atkinson technically does everything right, grafting a seedy whodunnit onto an impeccably constructed social landscape (she is, after all, also a respected crime writer), this novel is oddly hard going. Individual detail is packed in so tightly it can barely breathe. Minor characters come with extremely lengthy back stories. The dialogue tends to the humdrum ... There is almost no tension. Nor is Atkinson particularly interested in character ... In short, there’s an awful lot of external detail but not much inner life. Shrines of Gaiety is in the end a fitting title for a novel that reads more like an artfully constructed memorial to a historical moment than it does a creative reimagining.
MixedThe Times (UK)[Lucy] has a knack of making the reader feel as though they are the only person in the world whom she entrusts with her story ... Moreover, that deceptively artless style, which captures thought processes seemingly in the moment they occur, with Lucy contradicting and refining what she means as she talks, works beautifully in tandem with the novels’ abiding big ideas: the impossibility of escaping your various former selves and of ever truly knowing the people you love ... Still, even an avid fan such as myself can’t help but wonder whether this fourth Lucy Barton novel, published barely 12 months after its predecessor, is surplus to requirements ... Lucy is downright annoying in her new one...Whereas the Lucy of previous iterations is watchful, complicated and yes, sometimes infuriating, here she comes across as passive, twee, even a bit silly. Part of the problem is that Strout is writing about the pandemic. No subject is off limits because it is familiar, of course, but reams of words have already been expended on what it felt like to live through lockdown and Lucy, whose perspicacity relies on a sort of double bluff in which a banal phrase cleverly reveals a deeper truth, can rarely come up with anything much more penetrating than \'my mind was having trouble taking things in\' ... More of an issue are the relentless mannerisms ... With their granular compassion for the grinding limitations of small town lives, the Lucy Barton books are state-of-the-nation novels in micro, quiet little take downs of the great lie of the American dream. It’s a pity then that Strout feels the need here to over-egg the point, with Lucy saying she understands where the January 6 Capitol rioters are coming from, before then deciding she feels no common ground with racists after all. It’s typical of a novel that often mistakes simplistic observation for subtle insight, bathos for pathos. Strout is still marvellous at piercing the aching loneliness of the human condition. But I think I’m done with Lucy Barton.
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)This is a shimmering, unsettling tale of exploitation and manipulation, of children at the hands of adults and of adults at the hands of children, and with the art of novel writing itself presented as perhaps the most manipulative of all.
RaveDaily Mail (UK)Three cheers for Robert Harris, an author who can always be relied upon to serve up novels that perfectly balance intellectual heft with pulse-raising entertainment ... The pace falters once the trail goes cold but Act Of Oblivion offers aresonant history of both England and America as they struggle to forge a myth of nationhood out of opposing ideologies.
MixedThe Times (UK)Can a novelist be too interested in description? It feels like a churlish question — after all, one of the great joys of reading fiction is delighting in a writer’s particular way with imagery. Maggie O’Farrell is good at imagery ... Yet the question kept bugging me while reading The Marriage Portrait ... So headily perfumed is her prose it works on the reader almost like a drug ... Lucrezia remains the sum of her characteristics rather than springing forth messily alive. Perversely, she seems trapped beneath the weight of O’Farrell’s relentless, admittedly gorgeous descriptions ... The Marriage Portrait rarely provides fresh insight into Renaissance courtly life beyond reminding us that women are childbearing instruments of patriarchal power ... I’m glad I now know of Lucrezia, but The Marriage Portrait is a bloodless book, despite its efforts to bring a forgotten woman back to life.
PanThe Times (UK)... speaks directly to the lockdown-generated belief that life is better surrounded by fields and sheep rather than dirty urban streets ... has none of the emotional intensity of The Outcast, Jones’s desperately sad 1950s-set debut, which wrenched great pathos from a young son coming up against the complexities of the adult world. Rather, Jones sets out mainly to charm with her depiction of Blytonesque childhood, even as she tempers the romance through the matter-of-fact, present-tense perspective of her two child narrators ... There are starker moments of awakening too ... a desultory, shapeless novel, lacking much by way of plot or character. Jones has always been interested in children’s voices...but the oddthing about Lan and Amy is how difficult it is to tell them apart. Their voices blend together; the reader would be hard-pressed to describe their personalities. As narrators their most distinctive characteristic is their youthful love for emphasis, which Jones renders through an awful lot of italics ... And while Jones has fun at the expense of an uptight London couple using the new holiday let, Amy and Lan is neither a satire of urban relocation nor a Nina Stibbe-style comedy of eccentric family life. Rather it requires the reader to lean in to the steady flow of everyday incident, a bit like mindfulness in literary form, albeit with manure and chickens ... The idyll can’t go on for ever, of course, and it doesn’t. But however seductive the dream while it lasts, Jones fails to make us care about the characters who have lived it. It’s a curiously underwhelming novel. Perhaps, for many who relocate, a bit like countryside life itself.
MixedThe Times (UK)Even as the plot expands to take in blackmail, revenge porn, sibling tensions and wrongful imprisonment, the story struggles to build momentum...And there is something disingenuous about a novel that uses the bland generalisations of therapy-speak as its primary means of making readers invest in its characters rather than by fleshing out the characters as believable individuals...Carty-Williams is clearly better than this...All the same, People Person suggests a novel written at speed, possibly at the behest of her publishers...If so, one can only conclude they were in such a rush to capitalise on the success of Queenie they didn’t bother to read it...How else to explain the two-dimensional characterisation, the implausible sequencing of events, the irksomely sloppy narrative tone?...Or perhaps it’s simply old-fashioned to think that editors should still care about this sort of thing...Either way, it’s hard not to wonder whether Carty-Williams’s publishers have placed greater stock in flaunting their diversity credentials by publishing a novel that isn’t ready than they have in nurturing and supporting her talent...She and her readers deserve better.
RaveThe Times (UK)... sparkling ... This isn’t so much a \'will they, won’t they\' as a \'when the hell will they finally get it on\' kind of story that in essence consists of nearly 400 pages of romantic foreplay as the relationship — sorry, friendship — deepens and intensifies against the socially charged backdrop of campus politics ... Yet what really draws in the reader is not their respective emotional histories — thoughtful, sensitive, extremely buff Malakai is, for one thing, simply too good to be true — but the novel’s running commentary on contemporary race and gender relations ... Throughout, Babalola cleverly invokes the romance genre to interrogate whether romance is even real any more in an era of casual hook-ups and men who reply to an \'I love you\' text with \'safe, babes\' ... Granted, the plot is desultory. Incident takes second place to feeling and observation, but then, to be fair, you could say the same about Normal People. And those whose grasp on the semiotics of modern pop culture isn’t quite so refined as Babalola’s might sometimes find themselves struggling to keep up. But everyone understands the giddy euphoria of love — a feeling the extravagantly talented Babalola is a particular expert at expressing. Kiki compares her feelings for Malakai as like swallowing a star. That’s a bit how I felt after reading this messy but joyful book.
Lan Samantha Chang
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)Various subplots involving a stranger’s life savings and a missing family dog combine as the novel hurtles towards the suspicious death at its core, skewering—with tart humour—cultural myths about assimilation and model migrant families along the way ... Chang, in her admirable refusal to tie things up neatly, allows her characters and story to feel far too untidy and wayward—something a decent edit might have sorted out.
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)... if Shuggie Bain was faintly guilty of prettifying the poverty for a middleclass readership, Young Mungo is a much tougher, less consoling book ... Events pile up far too quickly in the closing chapters, but Stuart is much more critical of his characters this time round — and his grimly beautiful novel is the more interesting for it.
PanDaily Mail (UK)... breathless ... There’s extreme drama at nearly every turn ... Told in the form of a deathbed letter to Violeta’s grandson, this breakneck novel is loosely about the extent to which a life is at the mercy of history, but Allende’s famed storytelling technique lets her down: so much happens that you can barely see the wood, let alone poor Violeta.
MixedThe Times (UK)Like so many authors nobly trying to address the greatest issue of our time, Jessie Greengrass can’t help but moralise her way out of it ... Greengrass...writes beautifully, and also soporifically. An air of hazy, romantic unreality hangs over Sal, Pauly and Caro’s marooned, introverted and somewhat improbable pastoral existence ... It is a cliché of \'cli fi\' to idealise a close affinity with the land; yet Greengrass embraces it fully ... Greengrass is a thoughtful writer and The High House is full of elegant, resonant sentences about human fallibility, complacency, selfishness and our unquenchable capacity for love. Yet there have been several more interesting novels about climate change that match thematic urgency with narrative ambition and an imaginative interrogation of human nature ... The High House, for all, or perhaps because of, its meditative loveliness, feels inert.
RaveThe Times (UK)The last thing anyone probably feels like reading is yet another pandemic novel, not least one 700 pages long and featuring a future totalitarian America mobilised to fight waves of deadly infections ... To Paradise has none of [A Little Life\'s] febrile violence. It is also almost wantonly strange, a triptych of stories set in three discrete Americas yet connected by looping scenarios, motifs and recurring character names, as if a Paul Auster novel, or a story written in code, had smuggled its way in under a Tolstoyesque wealth of social and psychological detail. It’s much easier to read than this might sound ... The reframing of characters — all those Charleses and Davids — and scenarios feel like a comment on fiction’s endless capacity for revision and renewal, especially powerful in counterpoint to her epic probing of America as a failed imaginative idea, a country that hasn’t successfully reinvented itself in the face of an existential threat ... To Paradise is frequently magnificent, thanks to Yanagihara’s skill at immersing the reader deep within the emotional world of her characters, as they face agonising choices in the name of sexual and filial love. It is also perversely evasive and unsatisfactory, its narrative canvas overloaded and at times frustratingly opaque. As for humour — forget it: the tone is relentlessly stately and sombre.
MixedEvening Standard (UK)Schindler’s book...does provide an impressively researched account of Jewish life in the Tyrol up to and during the Second World War ... there is an extraordinary sub plot involving an Innsbruck doctor, Dr Bloch, who treated the young Adolf Hitler’s mother in 1907, and who in earning the undying gratitude of the Fuhrer was able not only to survive the war but help several fellow Jews escape it ... Schindler, a lawyer, has a professional obsession with the small print and draws on the vast amounts of Nazi documentation to painstakingly piece together the various convoluted (and illegal) transfers of property and assets ... But such a scrupulous fixation with detail is not always to her story’s advantage. Schindler carefully resists over-characterising relatives she never met, but lacks the novelist’s flair for properly animating her narrative. There are a couple of agonising letters sent to Kurt by his grandmother and aunt before they were deported to Poland, but also many dry clods of facts, conscientiously excavated, which feel more useful to the historian than the lay reader. More interesting are the details that fall between the cracks, and the aspects of our inherited histories that we cling to but which can never be verified.
Charlotte Higgins, Illus. by Chris Ofili
PositiveThe Times (UK)...[a] scholarly, capacious reimagining whose reach stretches from Troy to the Titans and seemingly everywhere in between ... Her book—which shares a spiritual and academic affinity with the non-fiction work Pandora’s Jar by Haynes—not only provides extensive sources but sometimes challenges them. Like Haynes, she wags her finger at the poet Hesiod for inventing the misogynistic story of Pandora and her now famous box of disaster ... Higgins keeps the storytelling largely ticking along, while offering the occasional nifty comment on female narrative agency. She is skilled at combining interpretive emphasis with tonal neutrality too, so much so that when an authorial voice occasionally pokes through, it jars ... Mainly, though, Higgins makes you feel for these tormented, accursed mortals afresh.
MixedThe Times (UK)Even when [Hall\'s] not writing about sex she might as well be. Her prose is sensual, viscous and fluid. Her novels and short stories luxuriate in the animalistic anarchy of sex, the sheer life and death mess ... Hall is not a social realist writer, and although her evocation of overwhelmed hospitals and unfathomable death counts recycles plenty of stock images from the past 18 months, it also draws on the apocalyptic imagination that has shaped much of her writing ... This is an odd novel, a hotchpotch of ideas, thoughts and sensual descriptions of art, mortality and the vulnerability of the human body. Its elegant phrasing almost blinds you to the novel’s abstract nature. However, the fragmented, backwards-looking structure is curiously enervating, constantly working against the novel’s ability to generate momentum ... But for Hall aficionados, perhaps the overwhelming impression is one of vague disappointment. Early novels, such as 2004’s Booker-shortlisted The Electric Michelangelo suggested a writer of rare imaginative daring, but she’s never quite fulfilled that promise; certainly she has yet to produce the book that establishes her as a truly great writer.
RaveDaily Mail (UK)Is there any writer out there comparable to Elizabeth Strout? ... A deceptively plain, un-flashy writer, Strout is very good at parsing the contradictory elements that make up our relationship with ourselves and the lives we lead, and the extent to which these elements exist in a state of flux. Such a pleasure to read. And so very wise.
Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)... tenderly rendered ... As the group hunker down, rationing their food and increasingly vulnerable, the narrative starts to feel diffuse, but Johnson is an unusually sensitive writer, combining a mood of impending doom with language of soulful beauty.
MixedThe Daily Mail (UK)\"Jon McGregor’s latest has the most thrilling beginning I’ve read in a novel for some time ... Then boom! We are in a hospital ward in Santiago and finally back home in England ... It’s a deft sleight of hand—to seduce readers with a spectacular action narrative before giving them an entirely different novel about how we communicate—but regular readers of McGregor will know that it’s the unsensational drama contained within the ordinary that interests him as a writer. And yet ... As McGregor animates the shadow lives of carers and stroke sufferers with his characteristic compassionate precision, I found myself reading increasingly dutifully, half of me back in Antarctica, gripped by just what exactly happened during that storm.
MixedDaily Mail (UK)... it’s a fairly heavy-going trudge through the life of a married father of six whose soul was tormented as much by the political convulsions of his native Germany in the first half of the 20th century as by his furtive homosexual desires, quietly tolerated by his sparkling wife, Katia. You can’t fault Toibin’s research, but you do wonder if the torrent of facts rather gets in the way. Mann comes across as a bit of a cold fish, emotionally distanced from his six children whose soap opera antics are what, in the end, provide much of the novel’s colour.
MixedThe Times (UK)Her imagination is determinedly unromantic: she loads dysfunction and trauma on to almost every character, not just the violated, grief-shattered women, but also the men ... Barker is also prone to horribly blunt sentences that would feel more at home in a potboiler ... Compared to its predecessor it is short on action. The haunted atmospherics convey an impression of drama that is not born out by the faltering plot ... The Women of Troy undeniably enriches the body of stories about the Trojan wars rather than diminishes it. It ends on a note that suggests all is not over, either. Where will Barker go next?
MixedThe Evening Standard (UK)One wonders if they—and Rooney‘s publishers for that matter—have actually read it, since, alongside all the extraordinary descriptions of sex and worldly conversations about books, it’s an anguished cry against the commercially powerful and psychologically challenging situation this globally feted author now finds herself in ... The problem Rooney comes up against is that Beautiful World never quite bears out her own defence. We can’t quite fall in love with this quartet, or indeed find them particularly interesting. The email essays are very interesting but they don’t feel convincingly embedded within the characters who write them. What’s more, there is very little drama or momentum ... Rooney still writes beautifully steady, clear-eyed sentences and remains excellent at parsing the micro tensions within individual encounters, but there is a new self-conscious to her writing. This feels like a very personal novel; a cri de coeur from an extravagantly talented writer who has become badly disillusioned with the world, and even at times with the novel form.
RaveThe Daily Mail (UK)Sahota gives his period narrative the same effortless immediacy as his present-day one, yet his novel works by stealth, quietly beguiling the reader into an almost painful intimacy with his characters’ respective culturally circumscribed lives. I loved it.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)[Taylor] is on arguably even more glistening form in his follow up ... together paint a portrait of generational estrangement in ways that, while different in almost every way, put one in mind of early Bret Easton Ellis ... Taylor is a far more careful, sensitive and probing writer than Ellis, though, and his prose quivers with an emotional hyper-vigilance that at times almost feels alive ... Self-loathing, confusion, the sheer intractable reality of the physical self that must always be negotiated: Taylor handles his theme with rare grace and compassion. Filthy Animals also feels determinedly less political than Real Life, which was pointedly a novel about race and sexuality; here the concerns of his characters, which include a young woman \'who has blown up her life\' and two men hesitantly trying to establish the contours of their relationship, are less ideological than existential. Still, while this collection contains several stories with female protagonists, I’d argue Taylor is better at writing about young men, trying to find their place in a world that has such defined ideas about what men should be ... He’s also extraordinarily good on the irresolute nature of desire.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)This is only Spufford\'s second novel but it proves him already fully-formed as a novelist. It combines a playful structure with the charms of old fashioned storytelling, both telegramming the fundamental artifice of novels – the sheer bloody lie of them, inventing at whim entire lives that never existed – while making you believe wholesale in every detail of its characters existence ... Such unexpected transformations of a mundane moment or object into something transcendent glint throughout this novel like a golden thread. The grit and spit of the book is social, as it maps through the decades the slow gentrification of shabby streets, the merciless modernisation of old working practices, the replacement of white working classes with migrant communities. Yet its heart and soul is cosmic, concerned with the metaphysics of time, the unfathomable workings of the sublime and with how tiny, in the infinite scheme of things, our lives really are ... Spufford is less sure-footed on dialogue, partly because he keeps using cockney as a hackneyed signifier for how south Londoners speak. He\'s capable of describing pretty much anything he wants, but that doesn\'t mean he always should: the novel absolutely heaves with detail ... One wonders, too, if he needs his opening chapter to remind us of the conceptual affinity between \'what if\' and storytelling and whether, if it’s straightforward poignancy he is after, that chapter might have had greater impact coming at the end ... Yet Spufford is interested in more subtle reflections. He has given his characters the gift of life, but that doesn\'t mean he has to give them fulfilment or even happiness ... A novel can offer the promise of redemption, but just like the wider, unknown mechanics of the universe, Spufford reminds us that what a novelist giveth he can also take away.
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)Vlautin’s new novel is set in his home town of Portland, Oregon, but anyone finding themselves priced out of the city in which they live will find much that chimes in this gritty tale of a young woman floundering in the slipstream of the American dream ... Vlautin, a singer-songwriter as well as a novelist, has a particular eye for set-pieces, and if the plotting is a bit ramshackle, his hardscrabble characters and their vanishing dreams have the tang of authenticity.
RaveThe Times (UK)Nolan’s writing is airless, obsessively interior and elegantly monotonous. For goodness sake, think of something beyond yourself, if only the weather, you want to yell at the narrator, and yet it’s impossible to tear yourself away ... Her implacable conviction in the rightness of all this makes the reader queasily complicit in her victimhood ... fits neatly alongside Normal People, but it’s also part of a wider spate of contemporary novels by young women who write against the conventional feminist narrative in which for decades heterosexual women have been encouraged to value themselves outside their relationships with men ... This is more than simple victimhood. This is a hard frank look at something uglier and more discomforting. It’s hard on the reader too, to be honest. I couldn’t stop reading Acts of Desperation, but I’m not sure I’ll want to read it again.
RaveEvening Standard (UK)Hastings is impeccable on the facts of Bedford\'s life—almost every meal and certainly every trip and romantic fling is exhaustively detailed—yet she refrains from passing much comment on Bedford\'s character, instead letting Bedford\'s personal writings, and the not always admiring correspondence from her many friends, paint a picture of a much loved, self centred, convivial bon vivant. This book is necessary reading for Bedford fans, but for the absolute essence of Bedford\'s sly, sensual, singular voice, I\'d perhaps favour her own words.
MixedThe Evening Standard (UK)... mimics the plotless, performative insouciance of a Twitter feed, which is to say it fizzes with the over-stimulated aphoristic wit that has made Lockwood the darling of Twitter ... It’s a filthy, funny, strung-out prose poem that aims to capture precisely how we think and speak online and what that might mean, and it’s often both stingingly accurate and weirdly beautiful ... Lockwood’s hyperactive self awareness gives her writing a wired, questioning restlessness that often bends back on itself. Everything is a huge joke even when it’s not. This can become exhausting ... For all Lockwood’s high wire mixing of multiple tonal registers, the inconsequential vitality of her prose also risks the same potential obsolescence as any tweet in a feed...Yet slowly she builds up a horrified portrait of a collective consciousness straining for connection while simultaneously consuming itself ... Lockwood ditches the irony and turns instead to a more conventional novelistic emotional register that captures with exquisite grace and truth the impact of this on her sister, her family, herself ... It’s an abrupt about-turn from the ridiculous to the sublime, from the unserious to the serious and, in the framework of the book, a bit of a cop out. If one of the fundamental questions in this book is how do we write seriously about ourselves in the age of Twitter, then Lockwood’s own answer would seem to be: at the end of the day in the same way we’ve always done.
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)Una Mannion’s excellently creepy novel begins in classic psychological noir style but soon broadens into a far richer portrait of Reagan-era America and its cultural bogeymen, thanks to the fearful world view of its narrator, 14-year-old Libby, who becomes fixated on keeping her little sister Ellen safe ... A lushly atmospheric coming-of-age novel in which Libby’s splintering family seems to stand as a metaphor for America itself.
PanThe Evening Standard (UK)[Boyd\'s] rightly credited with combining rollicking story lines with subtly probing examinations of art, fate and the vagaries of love and when he is good he is very very good. Alas, when he is bad, he\'s downright dispiriting. Trio falls into the latter category ... what a scrappy, unsatisfactory, un-atmospheric novel this is ... Much of the book, as the filming rumbles on, is padding – endless needless descriptions and she said this and then he did thats; long winded encounters with people who have scant bearing on the story; narrative detours that go nowhere.
PositiveEvening Standard (UK)Even the novel itself seems to break down: while individual sentences crackle with electrical unease, cumulatively the tension drains away. The Silence is a minor DeLillo novel, it\'s wordy, oblique, brittle, and not much fun to read, yet it retains that unshakeable, uncanny DeLillo resonance.
MixedThe Daily Mail (UK)The legacy of Ireland’s sexually repressive history has hardly been left untouched by 20th-century Irish fiction. Yet, while a second strand of this novel — set 20 years later — paradoxically feels both overcooked and undeveloped, Aitken brings a gut-pummelling mix of folklore, feminism and psychological trauma to her wild debut tale of mothers impelled to take out on their daughters the sins committed against them.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveDaily Mail (UK)Grief permeates nearly every paragraph ... It’s extremely bold of Oates to examine in this untidy, ultimately redemptive novel the impact of America’s corrupt police forces on a white family rather than a black one. Yet, at the same time, it’s her white characters’ entitled, reflexive racism that provides the novel’s most savage indictment of America’s culture wars.
RaveEvening Standard (UK)Those even faintly squeamish about coronavirus might find themselves particularly traumatised to read Farrell\'s extraordinary description of how, in the summer of that year, the virus travels ... She\'s a writer of rare emotional intelligence whose personal intimations of mortality bear rich fruit in this, her eighth novel which is not really about Shakespeare at all but his wife ... In O\'Farrell\'s supple hands Agnes becomes a woman of formidable instinctive gifts ... Like Hilary Mantel, O\'Farrell uses a disconcertingly intimate present tense ... O\'Farrell uses perspective the way a film might use a camera, stealing up on scenes from unexpected angles ... It\'s a beautifully written novel but I confess I read it with a faint impatience that only abated in its final pages.
MixedThe Evening Standard (UK)Like many drug memoirs, Will provides a not entirely pleasant, quasi-immersive experience: to ingest its headachy prose and sickly imagery as Will overdoses in Mile End and slumps in hallucinatory immobility in a New Delhi toilet is to feel your blood turning a sour sort of yellow. Self’s writing has the same technicolour velocity, malign comedy and arbitrary use of italicisation and ellipsis as his best novels, but it also imitates the fuzzy contractions in time and the odd discontinuity leaps of an addict’s brain in ways that gradually offer diminishing returns. It is also sometimes numbingly boring ... presumably a second memoir will follow. I’m not sure I can take it.
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)Rushdie’s fans will find much to love in this hyperactive, technicolor satire of a cultural moment in which the permeation of junk TV, fake news, social media and Trump himself have so disrupted the borders between fiction and real life. Many balls are juggled here, but, somehow, Rushdie keeps them all gloriously in the air.
MixedThe Daily Mail (UK)Ann Patchett is a terrific novelist to have in your back pocket — an Orange Prize-winning storyteller whose reliably sympathetic novels get right inside the mysterious bonds and fractures that make up American family life. Still, I’m not sure her most recent is her best ... Patchett’s portrayal of the many alternative ways one person can care for another in this world is interesting, but, after a glittering start, the momentum of this sprawling novel fatally ebbs.
PanThe Daily Mail (UK)...not his best ... Spanning several continents, this novel is stuffed to bursting with ideas about climate change, migration, the interconnectivity of past and present and the way ancient stories can have a powerfully imaginative impact on an individual consciousness. But it’s also a fussily written, hydra-headed mess of madly proliferating, credulity-stretching plot points.
MixedThe Daily MailSavage, who has worked as a carer, knows the world of which she speaks.
However, her novel is overwritten, despite containing almost no plot and even less dialogue. Instead, she tells us a lot about how Ella feels, but without ever giving her a persuasive inner life. Savage strains to explore what it means to be kind, an admirable gesture in a novel — but the whole thing feels effortful, dutiful and, I’m afraid, dull.
RaveThe Daily Mail (UK)...a bustling, bravura adventure that’s part Western, part Cormac McCarthy and part Obreht’s unique blend of spiritual realism in which, as her protagonists wrestle with their respective destinies, the voices of the dead are just as loud as those of the living ... This is not a novel to gulp down, but to savor, as Obreht fleshes out every possible detail in language that tastes both of the soil and of the skies. The final chapter, meanwhile, rich in poignant symbolism, is a wonder.
PositiveThe Daily MailThis is a conventional novel, but an expertly rendered one, with the multiple ugly tensions between Violet and Wendy in particular providing a ghoulishly dysfunctional sideshow to their parents’ loved-up spectacle. There is, however, just the faintest irksome hint of smugness in Lombardo’s authorial tone, as though she sides a little too much with characters whose privilege will, in the end, see them through.
Vasily Grossman, Trans. by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)It gives voice to a dizzying array of experiences ... Grossman is invariably compared to Tolstoy but he doesn’t have that writer’s peerless understanding of character and, as you wade your way through Stalingrad (it’s more than 900 pages long), you rarely feel as if you are living it from inside someone else’s skin. Even so, you do feel as though you are there, wandering through those devastated streets among the starving, dead, and mad. It’s enough.
PositiveThe Daily MailOn one level it’s a classic quest novel narrated by Tracker, an olfactory-blessed manhunter tasked with finding a missing boy; on another it’s an almost physically immersive summoning of a largely homoerotic and stupendously violent pan-African universe populated by psychopathic hyenas, witches, giants, mutilated children, mercenaries and a lusty leopard man with whom Tracker occasionally gets it on. This is a relentlessly kinetic, hallucinatory myth mash-up that revels in generating thrills. Many readers will jump on it with glee but, alas, it defeated me.
George Saunders, Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
PositiveThe Evening StandardThe delicious mangling of language that occurs as the fox, known among his vulpine friends as Fox 8, transliterates the words he hears gives the story a chewy textural vitality that is only really effective on the page ... a sweet little morality tale...Saunders is a master of the form ... feels like literature enacted as a form of activism. Not many writers could get away with this, but somehow Saunders carries it off.