MixedThe New York Times...if the young Varian Fry once resembled a type of dramatically evolving character in fiction, he has now become, in Julie Orringer’s sympathetic and prodigiously ambitious novel, a fictional character himself ... Orringer’s scrupulous research into this turbulent period goes far beyond bookishness. Her landscapes regularly rise to a Keatsian sensuousness. Her Marseille breathes as a city breathes ... Orringer revivifies with cinematic verisimilitude ... For the historical Fry, beyond hunches and hints, there is no evidence of homosexuality. Yet Orringer makes it a part of his character, expanding on speculations by Fry’s biographer, Andy Marino ... Even the glamour of the homoerotic, which fuels Orringer’s engine of suspense, turns threadbare through overexposure. In scene after scene, Varian’s leg slides seductively (and also schematically) along Grant’s; or vice versa. The mind of the Varian Fry of The Flight Portfolio is Orringer’s mind, and how, in the war between history and imagination, can we deny her that? ... why should it matter that Orringer’s vertiginous unscrollings of event and intent, unfolding in the south of France in the very pit of Vichy brutality, are chiefly her own? But it does matter ... The Flight Portfolio is more Hitchcock than history. Then know, as you read on, excited and enthralled, that Orringer’s Varian is movie-tone make-believe. Do not mistake him for Varian Fry.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHis stories are uncontaminated by principles of composition, or even by respectable generalities touching on how sentences ought to be made. His sentences are frequently in the passive voice; his verbs eschew the pursuit of energy. Overall, his prose is serviceable and ready to hand ... Most notably, his stories open with comments so blandly informational, so plain and unnoticeable, that they arouse no expectation and appear to promise little ... such flat and unhurried beginnings are subversions concealing a powerful slyness. Trevor’s stories traffic in plots, fated or willed, and hurtful. They may be coiled in pity, but they are never benign; their pity is unregenerative. Nor do they carry broad social vistas or axes to grind or hidden symbols ... in this small, final, seemingly quiet but ultimately volcanic book of stories, Trevor denies and defies — maybe spites — the promise of decline. As for volcanic: his people, at the finish of each turning of circumstance, are stunned and stilled, like the molds lava once made of the victims of Pompeii. And it is as if he will never run out of plots ... we honor him as the supreme master of his honest art.
Edward St. Aubyn
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewDunbar, not unlike the play itself, turns out to be a thriller: a crime thriller, a corporate mega-mogul thriller and even, at least in one horrific scene, a sadistic thriller. Betrayals are betrayed, boardroom machinations proliferate, monstrous conspiracies beget more monstrousness ... With one exception, Dunbar — like the genre novel it mostly resembles — keeps the story and loses the meaning. The exception is the long central passage where, as Dunbar wanders half-hallucinating in the Cumbrian wilderness, the only dialogue is between the mind and itself. A heartbreaking scrim of the broken and unspoken, image upon image, flames up...Here we can feel the writer feeling, and with Lawrentian clarity: a distillation of harrowed human pity. Retelling becomes reliving, a fleeting wisp of Shakespeare’s elusive breath. All the rest, in the usual way of thriller fiction, is puppetry and plot.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewFran is an unwitting Virgil who leads us through the circles of the hell of aging; but it is a hell where pragmatic thoughtfulness reigns and functional architecture is sustenance ... What sort of house shall I die in? is Drabble’s unyielding question. Its veneer is serviceable — lever rather than screw — but its intent is not. Its intent is scriptural, invoking Ecclesiastes; or Socratic, wooing the examined life; or both at once ... The Dark Flood Rises is not a therapeutic, eschatological, sociological, political or even philosophical novel. Never mind that it can be mistaken for any or all of these. In one way, it is a hymn to an inherited England, to its highways, gardens, streets, hotels, neighborhoods, landscapes, parking lots, stoneworks, cottages, secluded and public spaces ... But this humane and masterly novel by one of Britain’s most dazzling writers is something else as well, deeper than mere philosophy: a praisesong for the tragical human predicament exactly as it has been ordained on Earth, our terminal house.