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.
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.
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.