PositiveHarper\'s[A] useful and rich explication of Said’s trajectory, from his first mentors—R. P. Blackmur at Princeton and Harry Levin at Harvard—to his affiliation with French theorists, to his firm rejection of their ahistorical, ungrounded approach in favor of a historically informed, pragmatically revolutionary vision—which, indeed, might overlap significantly with McCarthy’s ... Brennan is very fine on the evolution of Said’s thought and writing, as well as on his return, after his leukemia diagnosis in 1991, to the music that had been central to his youth (he was a pianist of near-concert-level accomplishment) and his creation, with Daniel Barenboim, of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. But the book’s professional focus can come at the expense of other aspects of Said’s life ... Brennan notes Said’s important friendship with his fellow Palestinian-American academic Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, but gives the reader little impression of the man. Similarly, Said’s other friends, his parents, sisters, wives, and children, are present in the text (as is one mistress, a writer named Dominique Eddé, though it’s implied that there were others), but remain largely ciphers ... Nevertheless, Said’s vitality and lasting importance as both a scholar and a public figure emerge strongly in these pages.
RaveHarpers... damning and meticulously researched ... There is, in Horst, a fascinating psychology to explore: what has prompted this man, who claims to acknowledge the atrocities of Nazism, to spend his life denying his father’s involvement? But Sands is a lawyer, not a novelist, and his book is a carefully researched prosecution, not an exploration of motive ... Sands has once again written a riveting and insightful historical page-turner that proves to be part History Channel, part W. G. Sebald.
RaveHarpersLee...builds an ever richer, circular understanding of his abiding themes and concerns, of his personal and artistic life, and of his many other passionate engagements ... Lee’s biography is unusual in that it was commissioned, and published while its subject is still alive. Lee is a highly acclaimed biographer whose rigor and integrity make her decision to write under such conditions surprising ... Lee is frank and thoughtful about the challenges of writing about a living subject. She is aware, as the reader will be, that her interview subjects do not want to speak ill of a friend and colleague who is still among them. In addition to the almost unrelievedly positive portrayal of Stoppard, the seven-hundred-fifty-plus pages of this volume might have been somewhat condensed, were its subject no longer living, thereby rendering the biography easier to wield and to read. In spite of these quibbles, this is an extraordinary record of a vital and evolving artistic life, replete with textured illuminations of the plays and their performances, and shaped by the arc of Stoppard’s exhilarating engagement with the world around him, and of his eventual awakening to his own past.
PositiveHarpersI have particular interest in and compassion for Owusu’s cultural complexity, for the code-switcher’s attentiveness to what’s necessary for survival ... The gamut of Owusu’s youthful experiences...make for compelling reading, interspersed as they are with elucidating histories of the countries with which she is affiliated or in which her family made their home ... the memoir is triumphant: the survivor’s account of a thoughtful, passionate young writer grappling with life’s demons ... But this sense of hard-won redemption doesn’t feel entirely convincing, given the tenor and form of the memoir. Aftershocks is written in an elaborately fragmented manner, looping and uneven, held together by the metaphors of the earthquake and the chair ... Owusu’s memoir is affecting despite, rather than because of, its structure ... At times the book feels more a howl of agony intended to command compassion from a distance than a work of art created to evoke an emotional experience in the reader. This is perhaps more generally a risk of memoir than of fiction, but the difference arises, too, from the artist’s control of narrative form.
Peter Ho Davies
RaveHarpersDavies is less interested in the bourgeois fabric of life—where McLaughlin is like Ibsen, whose plays are cluttered with objects, Davies is closer to Chekhov, whose characters act on a near-empty stage ... There is nothing superfluous in these pages, and yet Davies, whose characters’ humor carries the reader through considerable agony, allows cheerfully for life’s banality ... It would be easy, under the sway of this mild and familiar parental wit, to underestimate the ambition of the book, both formally and emotionally. Like Akhil Sharma’s remarkable Family Life, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself presents the writer, and the reader, with an unusual challenge: its tragedy takes place in its opening pages ... Davies handles time with particular care ... Even in sentences pared down to the essentials, Davies’s nameless and hence faceless characters (in the way that McLaughlin’s powerful Chalk Sculpture is faceless) shift the quotidian (not just toys and childhood fads, but intimacy, sex, and masturbation) into the universal register of myth.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... [an] engaging work of cultural biography ... Doherty provides lively glimpses of the individual trajectories and projects of these artists, both in the years leading up to and after their time at Radcliffe. Olsen’s complicated relationship with the academy is well evoked, as are Sexton’s volatility ... Doherty may be less interested in the visual artists; or perhaps there exists less documentation of their thoughts and experiences ... Doherty’s attention to these early Radcliffe fellows is tempered by her awareness of the institute’s homogeneity at the time with respect to race and, for the most part, class ... This endeavor simultaneously to offer a broader context for the Radcliffe Institute and to cover a large period of time — from 1957 to the mid-1970s — ultimately renders The Equivalents somewhat diffuse, and in places it can feel skimpy. While Sexton’s and Kumin’s lives are thoroughly documented (and have been told elsewhere), Swan’s and Pineda’s in particular are only briefly handled. Doherty isn’t notably a stylist, and her descriptions can be perfunctory ... It’s hard to tell whether the book’s primary interest lies in portraying the complicated and demanding friendships among Kumin, Sexton and Olsen in the context of what is now the Radcliffe Institute, or in representing, at speed, the diverse strands of feminist activism and scholarship in the late ’60s and ’70s. Doherty tries to address all of these, in part, one suspects, because the subjects of her title — the five \'Equivalents\' — seem, from a contemporary intersectional perspective, potentially problematic: They were white, and, with the exception of Olsen, educated and largely well-off ... Doherty’s account, may have its flaws, but The Equivalents is nevertheless an illuminating contribution to our history.
Kamel Daoud, trans. by John Cullen
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe genius and the limitation of Daoud’s novel lie in the directness of this engagement with Meursault/Camus ... Daoud is giving literary voice, in a language intelligible to the West—both literally, in French, and also within a familiar philosophical tradition—to a point of view that the West longs to hear but that tends to be drowned out by other voices from the Middle East ... Daoud’s voice is particularly telling for its subtlety and tolerance ... Daoud neither rejects Camus and his colonial legacy outright nor accepts his work uncritically. His resulting meditations are rich and thought-provoking, both for Algerian and for Western readers. He lets no one off the hook, including Harun himself ... That said, the book cannot be read meaningfully without The Stranger behind it: for all its vitality, the novel’s skeleton is Camus’s. Harun’s actions and meditations exist in counterpoint to Meursault’s ... By the same token, The Meursault Investigation, fascinating and important as it is, is not of itself an especially interesting work of art. Cleaving as it does to the substance of The Stranger, taking The Fall as a literary model, it too has the quality of an intellectual exercise—albeit one expertly executed and replete with significance; one that should, even must, be read for its fierce and humane intelligence.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewWith the keen and expert eye of an excellent journalist, Waldman provides telling portraits of all the drama’s major players, deftly exposing their foibles and their mutual manipulations. And she has a sense of humor: the novel is punctuated with darkly comic details ... If this lively and thoroughly imagined narrative has a weakness, it lies in Waldman’s decision to remain at a certain remove from [the] two central characters; in a sense, not to privilege them more. As the story unfolds, their fateful decisions are eminently plausible, but not always fully comprehensible ... Elegantly written and tightly plotted, The Submission ultimately remains a novel about the unfolding of a dramatic situation — a historian’s novel — rather than a novel that explores the human condition with any profundity. And yet in these unnerving times, in which Waldman has seen facts take the shape of her fiction, a historian’s novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift.
Daša Drndic, Trans. by S.D. Curtis and Celia Hawkesworth
PositiveThe Guardian...Doppelgänger...deploys many of the same transgressive modes – digressive insertions; lists; Bernhardian riffs of reminiscence and rumination; the mingling of memory and imagination – but the narrative is tightly controlled and fully realised, grounded in memorable concrete detail ... Many of the ideas so forcefully and directly articulated in E.E.G. appear in this earlier novel, but here they are organically embedded in a fictional world. Fragmented but not disjointed, Beckettian as well as Bernhardian, Doppelgänger is complex, dark and funny: a strange gem.
Daša Drndić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
MixedThe GuardianIf, as Ban says, \'wars are an orgy of forgetting\', then Drndić’s is a mission of restitution: to restore the humanity – if only, in some instances, by the magic of their names – to individuals whose stories have been lost ... if \'fierce meandering\' is possible, that’s the tenor of this text. The prose is sometimes pretty dire, verging on nonsensical. This is not the fault of Celia Hawkesworth, the delicacy of whose translation is elsewhere evident. Rather, it’s as if Drndić were writing at such speed that she couldn’t take time to reread her sentences ... E.E.G. reveals Drndić as a writer and thinker of ever greater relevance, a voice whose wide-ranging screeds we ignore at our peril. This book is not, however, an achieved literary or artistic artifact: incontinent, ill shaped (or unshaped) and shoddily written, it’s often tough sledding.
MixedThe New York Review of Books\"... a passionate, if complicated, American novel—or, perhaps more accurately, a novel of the Americas ... [The narrative from the stepson\'s perspective] is suspenseful, but its progression and resolution make clear that we are in the realm of consoling—and not entirely convincing—fantasy rather than in that of truth ... Luiselli’s stylistic freedoms... form a patchwork designed simultaneously to reflect and reinterpret our current reality ... The mother’s narrative voice, in its varying registers, sounds as natural as is possible ... The first half of the novel reads less like fiction than like a record of time spent in a café with a particularly interesting friend—one whose observations are alternately delightful and trenchant, unexpected and familiar; one whose presumption of her interlocutor’s intelligence and erudition is both flattering and quickening ... As [Luiselli] endeavors to marry fact-like fiction... with fairytale-like fiction... with dark myth... with a strong political intention that nevertheless aims to avoid propaganda, all the while spinning formal complexity upon formal complexity, there is ultimately a sense that the center cannot hold ... Many elements of Lost Children Archive are extraordinary, and yet the ultimate act of transformation has not occurred. One might of course contend that, in this ghastly time, such a transformation is no longer possible; but Luiselli’s decision to write a novel at all surely affirms otherwise.\
PositiveThe Guardian\"Spurling’s excellent and vivid biography will hopefully turn our attention again to Powell’s work ... Spurling’s account of the tensions and machinations there provides a lively portrait of London’s literary scene in the 1920s and 30s ... Spurling, a close friend of the Powells, writes with great affection and respect of their union and of Powell’s remarkable life’s work. She is delicate but straightforward in tackling sensitive subjects – such as Violet’s affair, during the war, with an unnamed man – and frank, too, in recording the hostility Powell faced, in later years, from former friends ... Powell emerges from this exemplary and deliciously readable account not only as a novelist of considerable significance who altered the parameters of the form, but also as a human being of great wit, impressive modesty and firm integrity.\
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...Miller has determined, in her characterization of this most powerful witch, to bring her as close as possible to the human — from the timbre of her voice to her intense maternal instincts ... Circe is very pleasurable to read, combining lively versions of familiar tales (like the birth of the Minotaur or the arrival of Odysseus and his men on Circe’s island) and snippets of other, related standards (a glance at Daedalus and Icarus; a nod to the ultimate fate of Medea after she and Jason leave Aiaia) with a highly psychologized, redemptive and ultimately exculpatory account of the protagonist herself. That said ... It’s a hybrid entity, inserting strains of popular romance and specifically human emotion into the lives of the gods. Idiosyncrasies in the prose reflect this uneasy mixture ... In spite of these occasional infelicities and awkwardnesses, Circe will surely delight readers new to the witch’s stories as it will many who remember her role in the Greek myths of their childhood ... Purists may be less enchanted, bemused by Miller’s sentimental leanings and her determination to make Circe into an ultimately likable, or at least forgivable, character. This narrative choice seems a taming, and hence a diminishment, of the character’s transgressive divine excess.
RaveThe GuardianThose who have not yet discovered her might best begin with the fiction and save this collection for later, not because it doesn’t merit attention but because Moore’s incisive, often mordant yet exhilarating pieces illuminate the trajectory of a literary artist’s aesthetic evolution, and enhance an understanding of her fiction. They give us a cumulative sense of how the frank, savvy, tragicomic sensibility so evident in her stories and novels reverberates in the wider context ... Extended personal forays are rare, however, and in these pieces Moore’s particular frankness emerges chiefly (and deliciously) in parenthetical asides or digressive observations when she is focused on the work of others ... I had enjoyed many of the essays in this collection in the journals in which they first appeared but was struck, on rereading, not only by Moore’s intelligence and wit, and by the syntactical and verbal satisfactions of her prose, but by the fundamental generosity of her critical spirit. Moore’s astringency always enlivens her observations, but rarely her assessments, even when critical. In print, at least, she is a wit without malice.
RaveThe New York Review of Books\"Yet the confluence of themes raised by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life enables Fraser to explore not only the \'profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation\' that the novels’ creation entailed but also the environmental, social, and political forces that shaped both the myths and the realities behind them ... That said, Fraser calls their literary relationship a \'collaboration,\' and reminds us that it involved a tension between opposing approaches—Wilder’s plain, unornamented empirical descriptions and Lane’s slick, dramatic, and crowd-pleasing sensationalism. Ultimately, says Fraser, \'Wilder saw writing as a cottage industry: books were the work of many hands, like quilts at a sewing bee\' ... Fraser’s meticulous biography has particular urgency today, as she unknots the threads of fact and fiction, of reality and myth, of mother and daughter. She takes on, very occasionally, a moralizing tone that surprises. But these rare lapses have a logic in the broader culture wars of which this book may be seen—at least by avid partisans in the fight for Wilder’s legacy—to be part ... But as Fraser is at pains to point out, that spirit lives on most vibrantly in the novels themselves.\
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe story in question, the novel’s dark heart, is that of the murder of an entire white family, the Lochrens, on their farm in 1911; and of the discovery of their bodies, along with one surviving infant girl, by a group of four Native Americans … The effects of this long-ago incident pervade the novel; but The Plague of Doves is not a single, simple story. (It is worth noting that many portions of the book were originally published as short stories, primarily in The New Yorker: each section stands on its own as a consistent whole; and the triumph of the novel is the way in which Erdrich has contrived to make their unfolding as a cohesive novel seem wholly organic.) Most, like Evelina’s own, are stories of passion, of love and its consequences … There is a symphonic achievement in Erdrich’s capacity to bring so many disparate stories to life, and to have their thematic echoes overlap in such compelling harmony.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksThese pages don’t simply capture viscerally the eleven-year-old’s joy at discovery, or his unspeakable fears, or his first stirrings of desire—although to do that successfully is in itself a rarer achievement than one might wish to believe. They also emanate, like a scent, the melancholy of age, the tender wistfulness with which a man over sixty sees again the vistas of his childhood … Ondaatje evokes, powerfully, the sorrow of growing older: the resignation, and recognition, of all that was not earlier understood. He articulates, too, the rueful amazement at what is past: when he finally finds Emily again, at the end of the novel…between the two of them lies a moment of fullness—a moment of being—reminiscent of Mrs. Dalloway’s at her party, when at last she is surrounded by the dear friends of her youth and finds them so changed.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHer new book, elegantly translated by Susan Bernofsky and set in contemporary Berlin, tells the story of a recently retired classics professor named Richard who, widowed and childless, seeks focus and meaning in his life... What ensues is Richard’s intellectual, social and spiritual blossoming ...Erpenbeck’s novel makes a powerful case for Richard’s evolution, and by the book’s close we understand that his own life — so long controlled and closed down — has been emotionally opened and revitalized by his new path ... timely political subject, distressing and confounding, could easily have worked against its success: The risk of didacticism is high ...Erpenbeck’s rigor, her crystalline human insight, her exhilaratingly synthetic imagination...combine to make Go, Went, Gone an important novel, both aesthetically and morally.
RaveThe GuardianIt is a book in which almost nothing happens – an episode in which Aaliya, the protagonist, washes her mother’s feet is one of the most dramatic – and in which conversation is largely remembered or overheard. Rather, the novel overflows with the interior dialogue between Aaliya and her literary life, the sprawling erudition of her 72 years of reading... Alameddine’s novel is a hymn to an important type of excess – that of art and philosophy – that our ever more efficient and supposedly rational era is quick to discard ...prickly and proud as she is, will find herself reduced to a kind of nakedness before the novel is done. The surprise is that in her case, it proves a state of grace ... Alameddine’s narrative is digressive, at times didactic, unapologetically mandarin, written in resistance to almost all the current norms of a 'well?made' novel...a genuine literary pleasure: a complicated one.
MixedThe GuardianOne can admire a work of fiction without particularly enjoying it; one can dislike a novel even while appreciating its value ... The Night Circus is a sprawling historical novel about magic and the circus. Highly whimsical, it is a narrative so wilfully contrived that contrivance is its raison d'être ... Rather than forcing its readers to be prisoners in someone else's imagination, Morgenstern's imaginary circus invites readers to join in an exploration of the possible ... novel's plot is fairly straightforward ... Whether they will destroy each other and the circus into the bargain, or whether they can escape their magical indentured servitude and rewrite their fates, emerges as the novel's central question ... Like any successful illusion, it could be carefully unravelled; but surely, as rare as it is, it should simply be enjoyed.
PositiveThe Financial TimesLike its companion books, Lila is a novel in which, strictly speaking, little happens... chiefly, the book takes place inside Lila’s consciousness, in her memories, observations and ruminations. In spite of her contentment, she repeatedly contemplates departure: ambivalence – standing on the threshold – is her state of being … Robinson is a glorious writer, and her sentences, as much as their content, are a consistent pleasure. This novel, different in tone from its predecessors, stands beautifully alongside them, expanding our understanding not only of this woman, Lila, and of these people, but of their time and place.
RaveThe Financial TimesRoy’s admirers will not be disappointed. This ambitious new novel, like its predecessor, addresses weighty themes in an intermittently playful narrative voice ... Colourful and compelling, this is a novel in which characters embody political concerns rather than one in which those issues arise organically out of a sustained illumination of human nature. Roy is a mistress of the memorable vignette and the arresting detail ... Roy is not greatly preoccupied with interiority: her ancestor would be Dickens rather than Tolstoy. The novel teems with abundant incidental detail, and yet seems, for a considerable time, to present many apparently irreconcilably divergent strands. It’s a tribute to Roy’s gifts that she is ultimately able to arrange these into a coherent and meaningful whole; but some readerly perseverance is required ... Roy’s second novel proves as remarkable as her first. Its ambitions are rather different — grander still — and its formal strangeness risky and considerable. You will not finish this novel with a profound psychological understanding of its characters; but through their archetypal interactions, juxtaposed with Roy’s glorious social details, you will have been granted a powerful sense of their world, of the complexity, energy and diversity of contemporary India, in which darkness and exuberant vitality are inextricably intertwined.
RaveThe Financial TimesHadley’s admirers will not be disappointed. These pages are punctuated by her familiar calm, clear-eyed psychological acumen; by her delicate and precise lyrical descriptions (particularly of nature: 'the bluebells were like pools of water among the trees, reflecting the sky'); and by the formal freedom with which she roams through psyches and time ... Like Alice Munro, to whom she has more than once been compared, Hadley has the gift of making small canvases inexhaustibly new. She sees unsentimentally the subtle gestures that alter people’s lives forever; and charts, too, the instances when those gestures change nothing at all ... This zoom lens effect gives Hadley’s work the tenderness of wisdom: she grants readers an almost Buddhist apprehension of time’s inexorable levelling force. She captures childhood’s consuming immediacy; and with equal vividness, the confusions of young womanhood ... Compassionate and luminous, Hadley sees them all — or should I say, she sees us all: our travails, our fantasies and our small joys.
RaveThe AtlanticWe have before us so fine and controlled a stylist that we may imagine we cannot ask for more; surely these are pleasures enough … Briony is a storyteller: she undertakes to shape and describe the world around her with, significantly, a pretense of objectivity...If Briony and McEwan are in some measure indistinguishable in this novel (and only in the novel's conclusion do we discover how profoundly this is so), there remains, owing to McEwan's subtleties, a distance between them, a distance that articulates itself in a new raggedness of form and in a self-conscious insistence on the novel's story-ness … There is nothing storylike about these visions, nothing tidy, no narrative advantage to their telling. Reading McEwan's work, we often find it impossible to slow down, so powerful is the pull of ‘What next?’
RaveThe New York Review of BooksSwing Time may not parse easily and fits no mold, but it is uncommonly full of life ... Her complex relationship with her mother is one of the novel’s most powerful subsidiary threads ... Smith’s keen satirical eye, a pleasure of her earlier work, is often in evidence where Aimee is concerned ... In some ways, these event-filled final chapters feel almost incidental, like a coda. The intense, richly imagined life of the novel vibrates most strongly elsewhere, in the moving presentation of the narrator’s primal childhood years with Tracey, and in Smith’s exhilarating portrait of village life in Gambia ... Highly ambitious, overflowing, sometimes messy, this novel resists familiar satisfactions, as it resists containment or easy categorization. This, for 'the nearest thing to life,' is a high achievement.
Magda Szabo, Trans. by Len Rix
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIf you’ve felt that you’re reasonably familiar with the literary landscape, The Door will prompt you to reconsider. It’s astonishing that this masterpiece should have been essentially unknown to English-language readers for so long, a realization that raises once again the question of what other gems we’re missing out on. The dismaying discussion of how little translated work is available in the United States must wait for another venue; suffice it to say that I’ve been haunted by this novel. Szabo’s lines and images come to my mind unexpectedly, and with them powerful emotions. It has altered the way I understand my own life.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere is not a scintilla of sentimentality in this exquisite novel. Instead, in its careful words and vibrating silences, My Name Is Lucy Barton offers us a rare wealth of emotion, from darkest suffering to simple joy.