MixedThe Guardian (UK)Certainly, Amazing Grace Adams has some lovely moments ... Where the novel falters is in its narrative spine: Grace’s increasingly frenzied march across London, which unfolds at a hectic pitch somewhere between a fever dream and a Twitter pile-on ... For most of the novel Littlewood appears to assume... that justification is superfluous and, because Grace is a woman, whatever she does, however irrational or disproportionate, other women will instinctively cheer her on.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Though her novel is written from the perspective of an increasingly besotted Eliza, it is no hagiography ... Donoghue is at her very best evoking the mysteries and miracles of first love ... Simply and without a shred of sentimentality, she evokes a relationship that is convincing and exquisitely touching.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Stephen May weaves real-life events with fictional imaginings to create a novel that defies easy categorisation: a convincing slice of history that is also a darkly comic tale of political intrigue and a revealing portrait of the dictator ... In May’s telling, Koba has murdered his brute of a father: he cannot shake his ghost, either in his waking hours or in his dreams. While this lends the narrative an undeniably Shakespearean echo, the rather more prosaic truth is that Stalin’s father died of cirrhosis two years after the London congress. By rooting his Koba in so fundamental a fiction, May plants a niggling worm of doubt about the integrity of his creation. Cavils aside, this remains a deeply satisfying novel.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Sally Carter’s narrative sticks closely to the genre principles of the police procedural, not only in form but in flavour. While Ward’s prose is consistently crisp, the guarded Carter feels all too familiar, the distillation of a hundred cops from books and television shows ... The woman behind the surname remains frustratingly opaque. It is into Isobel – and, in particular, Isobel as a child – that Ward pours her considerable insight and humanity ... The Schoolhouse accelerates towards an improbably overcooked conclusion. It is a pity because, behind the Line of Duty-esque noise and fury, this novel has much to say about childhood and, in particular, the failures by adults in authority to protect the children in their care.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)It is strangely unsettling to be so explicitly assigned to a state of not-knowing, to a story that is neither quite true nor quite made up, where McCracken both is and is not her protagonist. McCracken – or rather the narrator – is unrepentant ... The result is a shape-shifting hybrid of a book that hedges its bets on every page, playing with its ambivalence in order to explore the equal and opposite compulsions to respect a mother’s privacy and to hold on to her through words. It also meditates on how stories are made, and the impossibility of ever truly differentiating fiction from autobiography ... A slim novel that confirms McCracken as among the finest contemporary chroniclers of everyday life.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... the novel unfolds in a vividly evoked England during the bitter winter of 1893. From the first pages it promises the same gothic spookiness as its predecessor ... Death throws an ever-looming shadow over proceedings – the book’s sections are even named after parts of the Requiem Mass – but O’Donnell has no intention of serving up a standard Victorian chiller. Instead he has created a gloriously unorthodox confection, part Wilkie Collins, part Conan Doyle, with a generous handful of police procedural and a splash of Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm. There is even a distinctly Hitchcockian interlude on a train ... structurally more satisfying and driven by a more compelling plot. O’Donnell has pulled off with brio something that might, in a lesser writer’s hands, have fallen horribly flat: he has written a coherent and satisfying novel that is both disquietingly eerie and properly funny. It is impossible to read it without laughing out loud. Sharp, impatient and eye-wateringly brusque, Inspector Cutter powers through the pages, relentlessly squashing the assiduous, overeducated Gideon with his scathing remarks. The determinedly diplomatic accounts Gideon writes of his superior’s interviews as he conducts his inquiries are comic works of art ... O’Donnell dispenses the waspish wit of the beau monde with Wildean relish ... Yet none of this detracts from the unsettling strangeness of the book’s central mystery ... The dramatic denouement is striking and pleasingly unexpected. And while the laughs provide welcome respite from the darkness, their greater achievement is to bring a kind of bracing tenderness to a tale that might, in these #MeToo times, have felt voyeuristic and exploitative. Beneath its spooky exterior The House on Vesper Sands is a paean to the unshowy virtues of determination, diligence and loyalty. It is also a cracking good read. The book ends with an epilogue that could be dismissed as superfluous, except that it plainly lays the ground for a sequel. Regardless of where one ends up filing this novel on the bookshelves, that is excellent news for us all.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)A 544-page doorstopper, The Blind Light has been trumpeted by Evers’s publishers as a state-of-the-nation novel. Its range is certainly ambitious, a 60-year span from the Cuban missile crisis to 9/11 and the present-day war on terror, but rather than an overarching sweep, the author has distilled his narrative into a series of distinct vignettes years apart, each one set over a few days. His focus is close, even deliberately claustrophobic ... Evers is excellent on the fine grain of friendship. He carefully unpicks the complex and often uncomfortable relationship between Drum and Carter ... The book is full of these delicately judged moments, simultaneously inconsequential and profound. Whereas the relationships between the men’s children feel more generic, Evers finds affecting depth in the more cautious, but in the end much truer, attachment between their wives ... He is less certain of his ground when it comes to plot. The different sections of the novel have an immersive granularity that allows them to unfold almost in real time but the structure by which he connects them across six decades is clumsy and, on occasion, melodramatic. While The Blind Light is meticulously embedded in historical detail, the (invented) seismic event that forms the fulcrum of the narrative stretches credulity, undermining the authenticity of the undertaking ... Evers’s periodically overworked prose is also a distraction. He can and frequently does write with a lovely lucidity, even lyricism, but too often he adopts an irritatingly mannered style. He has a habit of chopping his sentences. Into snatches. Snatches repeated for emphasis. Yes, emphasis. The intention is presumably to create emotional immediacy but over 500 pages it grates, disrupting rather than intensifying the reader’s connection with his characters ... There is still much to savour in The Blind Light. At its heart, the novel is a thoughtful and powerful study of the corrosive effects of fear, the damage we do to ourselves and our loved ones when danger is all we can see. Right now that story feels disconcertingly timely.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)For those Strike aficionados long captivated by the will-they-won’t-they relationship between the detective and his agency partner, Robin Ellacott, there is much to be savoured ... Galbraith’s unhurried examination of their emotional turmoil adds depth to both characters and convincingly stokes the simmering tensions between them ... A scrupulous plotter and master of misdirection, Galbraith keeps the pages turning but, while much of Troubled Blood is terrific fun, it is hardly a hair-raising ride. With jeopardy thin on the ground, the languid pace and the elderliness of the mystery (and indeed most of the suspects caught up in it) combine to give the enterprise the unthreateningly cosy air of old-fashioned Sunday night TV drama. When the denouement finally comes, it is not quite satisfying enough to justify the page count. Strike and Ellacott, however, remain one of crime fiction’s most engaging duos.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)During the course of his career Harris has perfected the art of creating tension within a story to which we already know the ending ... In The Second Sleep he turns the tables: this time we do not know the beginning ... The stage seems set for a classic Harris thriller, the lowly functionary intent on challenging the entrenched interests of a secretive and ruthless state. Instead The Second Sleep develops into something more contemplative: an exploration of a world that is both unfamiliar and as old as time, and of the consequences of our flagrant disregard for the existential perils of our own era. A convincingly imagined future world requires a steady accretion of small, telling details and there are sections in Harris’s novel that feel frustratingly inconsistent or approximate. But if his dystopia lacks the political and social coherence of, say, Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, he has contrived in The Second Sleep to do something rather brilliant and new. He has put us at the heart of the mystery. Whatever disaster has struck the world it has struck because of us, our greed and ambition, our arrogance. We are all responsible. As Fairfax edges closer to the truth, the reader is left with at least as many questions as answers, and most of those questions are directed at ourselves.
PanThe Guardian (UK)The sense that Nathan evokes so skilfully in her short fiction, that her stories are mere glimpses of a complex and fully realized world, is plainly a matter of fact ... Unfortunately...much of the new material...weigh[s] the novel down. While Nathan’s stories glitter, dangerous with hidden depth, the book plods, its plot fatally underpowered. It takes too long for the effects of Warlow’s incarceration to gain momentum and, when at last the household cracks under its pressure, the events feel forced and improbable. More frustratingly, though the extra pages provide more detailed encounters with the two protagonists, these do little to deepen our understanding of either man. There are some powerful moments, but...[i]t is in Nathan’s crisp and haunting stories that this strange sliver of history achieves its fullest consideration.
MixedForwardIn the Full Light of the Sun contains its own share of improbabilities, notably a set of unusually stormy romances. Its plot, too, is convoluted and occasionally confusing, zig-zagging in unexpected directions ... But Clark’s narrative gifts and mastery of historical detail encourage immersion in her tale, which hinges on the porous boundaries between the real and the fake ... Eventually, of course, we will learn the identity (and motivation) of the van Gogh forger—a surprise, though neither a shocking nor a fully satisfying one.
PositiveThe Guardian... [a] sprawling, sparkling debut novel ... Porter’s tale abandons chronology to freewheel through time and place, in a series of seemingly random vignettes that loop through and around one another like knitting, veering off into new patterns, picking up dropped stitches of plot. Children reappear as lovers, lovers as negligent grandparents. Peripheral characters are brought abruptly into the foreground, new ones arrive without introduction to take centre stage. Events are revealed in screenplay form or through exchanged letters. It’s not always easy to keep track of who’s who...and there are moments when technical virtuosity tips over into tricksiness. On the whole, however, this is an exhilarating ride. Porter is a wickedly astute chronicler of human foibles and her sharp writing is often mordantly funny. It also brims with compassion. In her hands, this series of glimpses feels something like life itself: a tangled, involving, frustratingweave in which we know things briefly, intensely and at the same time not at all, and we are all both the heroes of our own stories and the extras in other people’s.
Niklas Natt Och Dag
MixedThe Guardian\"A strong stomach is required as the evocatively named Natt och Dag (in English, Night and Day) unfolds his dark tale ... The result, a prize winner in Sweden, is an unconventional mashup: part murder mystery, part gothic chiller, part noirish picaresque and entirely, unrelentingly grisly. Harrowing sea battles, botched public executions, savage whippings, hands burned to stumps by potash and lime: Natt och Dag spares us nothing, detailing horror after horror in his unflinchingly muscular prose ... In the end, though, it is the novel’s lack of depth rather than its grisliness that undoes it ... The historical digressions that pepper the text are vividly conjured but also slow the pace. Several plot twists prove unconvincingly convenient. Most problematically, the psychological climax of the story lacks the profundity that would justify its excesses.\
MixedThe GuardianRachman has terrific fun skewering the hyperbole and hypocrisies of the art world. While it is hardly virgin territory, he brings a shrewd eye and a knack for aphorism that lend his observations a satisfyingly sharp edge ... Pinch’s middle years are a study in neediness, disappointment and self-disgust ... While psychologically acute, this poses novelistic challenges Rachman appears at first not quite to meet. In its central third the novel slows to a crawl as Pinch limps through his lonely, colorless existence, unwilling to recognize his father’s monstrousness or admit his own collusion, unable to forge a convincing self of his own. Passively, unhappily, he sags into middle age. The plot, such as it is, sags too. It seems a surprising miscalculation from a novelist of Rachman’s caliber until the book reaches its final climactic third and he delivers his sucker punch of a payoff ... The satisfaction of the ending, and its moral ambiguity, underscore the impossibility of easy answers.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"...part love story and part thriller, though not quite enough of either ... Haig remains a keen-eyed observer of contemporary life and his dialogue has snap and charm. In the past, however, he is on shakier ground; his characters seem to exist less in their historical surroundings than to have pushed their faces through the holes in painted carnival cutouts ... In the end, though, it is Tom himself who most bogs down the narrative. More than once he apologizes for his \'heaviness,\' and with good reason. Weary of life, still grieving his dead wife some four centuries after her death, he makes for a frustratingly passive protagonist.\
PositiveThe GuardianIf the history, served up in newspaper articles, is sometimes a little heavy-handed, both Julia and John Tredevant are satisfyingly complex. Julia combines intelligence, humour and a powerful maternal instinct, while despite his bullishly capitalist impulses, Tredevant is sensitive and needy ... Birdcage Walk does not reach the heights of Dunmore’s best work. While there is no doubting the grisly horror of the events unfolding in Paris, their effect on the novel’s protagonists is too often tangential, the threat more theoretical than real. Touching as they sometimes are, the relentlessly domestic preoccupations of much of the middle part of the novel lack urgency, causing the pace to sag. That said, the novel offers many delights. Dunmore could not write an ugly sentence if she tried and she has an extraordinary gift for taking the ordinary and familiar and rendering them new ... it is easy to see why she has earned a place among the finest writers of historical fiction working today.
PanThe GuardianThe central premise of Burton's novel, inspired by Oortman's real?life miniature house within a house, even smaller and more claustrophobic than the original, is therefore an intriguing one and rich with possibility … Such ingredients promise much but, though there is plenty to enjoy in The Miniaturist, the novel falls frustratingly short of its own potential. Part of this comes from a shift in pace about halfway through the book when Burton, seeking to ratchet up tension, allows the mystery of the miniaturist to drift from the narrative. Instead she pursues a soap opera of a plot that plunders the stock tropes of domestic historical drama, leaving the deeper questions she has raised largely unexplored.
PanThe GuardianIn AD70, Hoffman's characteristic elision of the magical and the quotidian finds its spiritual home. This is a world in which trust in the immutability of one's destiny is matched by the desperate belief that the right magic can change the future. The dovekeepers' lives are punctuated by prayers, curses and omens. Their decisions are directed by prophecies and by dreams, their faith sustained by miracles. That we know from Josephus how the story must end only adds to the sense, so strongly shared by the women themselves, that their fates are already decided … The novel is much too long and, for most of its 500 pages, its four protagonists suffer relentlessly. Bereaved, persecuted, despised, they live in fear of the brutality of men and the pitiless heat of the desert. The archaic prose style doesn't help.
RaveThe GuardianMiller's parable is unambiguous. As Baratte's story unfolds, the impending revolution hangs over the narrative like the blade of the guillotine to come. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, or John the Baptist the Churn, is in Paris to prepare the people for the coming of the true messiah. It is his duty to rip away the filth of the past, to lay the foundations for a new, better world. As his foreman declares: ‘They will name squares after us . . . the men who purified Paris’ … Unlike many parables, however, Pure is neither laboured nor leaden. Miller writes like a poet, with a deceptive simplicity – his sentences and images are intense distillations, conjuring the fleeting details of existence with clarity.
MixedThe GuardianBirch has clearly done her research and the novel sticks closely to Pastrana’s real-life story. But, although Birch writes beautifully and creates some wonderful moments, the narrative never quite takes off ... Meanwhile, the modern-day thread that runs through the book proves a distraction, its connection to the main story coming too late to make sense of its inclusion.
MixedThe GuardianThe outspoken Betsy is a terrific character, a force of nature and source of pride and appalled anxiety to her devoted family. But though Napoleon and his entourage increasingly become the centre of her world, the man himself eludes us. Betsy’s age and sex restrict her to the margins. Her perspective is too narrow to accommodate his ambiguities; her girlish preoccupations keep him off stage so that too often his character and actions come to us second-hand. While Betsy barrels off the page fully formed, the Great Ogre remains frustratingly opaque. For all the questions Keneally raises about Bonaparte’s complexities, he never quite creates a real man. There are nevertheless some glorious moments in this novel, lit with Keneally’s trademark impish humour.