RaveArts Desk (UK)Books, the reading of them and the burgeoning desire to write them, is the thread running through this eclectic, engrossing and frequently funny coming-of-age – or, as Bennett would have it, coming-to-life – story, holding it all together like the wire lattice of a trolley ... Much like her appetite for books, Checkout 19 is voracious and seemingly unstoppable ... One of the book\'s most peculiar and entertaining characteristics – a feature which makes it more tempting to call it a novel – is Bennett’s retelling of some of her earlier material.
PositiveArts Desk (UK)Original ... Lasley dutifully lays out the reality – the horror, really – of making a living in the middle of the North Sea, as well as the oil companies’ decades-long war of attrition with workers’ and human rights. Along the way though – in fact, for most of the book – she takes in a whole range of evergreen issues. Sea State is a layer-cake of age, class, sex, politics and gender, and the more Lasley inspects the cross-sections, the more we see there’s hardly any filling to keep the layers apart ... As much as the book is about what men are like with no women (or one woman) around, it is about what a woman is like with no real friends around ... This final generous tranche of dialogue also magnifies an already extraordinary element of the book: Lasley’s verbal talent (putting her prodigious personal memory aside), not only as a writer with a Jamesian penchant for French phrases but also as a quick-witted conversationist. Lasley never puts a foot wrong in these exchanges, which gives this piece of nonfiction more than a hint of the fictional ... The literary neatness is mostly to the book’s credit.
PositiveThe Arts Desk (UK)[A] freshly clarified yet darkly comic style ... As its central character (and the very notion of character) breaks down, so does Assembly – into pithy paragraphs and insights ... Brown covers a lot of this ground in a breathtakingly short space of time (100 pages) and in order to do so it’s no surprise the book degenerates or, rather, devolves to cultural criticism as criticism is one way to tell stories – tell, as in to account for them, to hold them to account – without necessarily having to tell them ... Let’s hope Natasha Brown keeps pushing at the limits: having these thoughts; sharing them.
RaveThe Arts DeskAs a crime caper (with a revenge plot thrown in) Harlem Shuffle is masterfully crafted; you can’t always tell where it’s going to go. Those moments when you can – when a scene or chapter wraps up a little too neatly, where a wisecrack is a little too wise – are few and far between and at the very least show the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner allowing himself to have a little fun. The heist itself is an flawless setpiece and, although it gets off to a slow start, the book as a whole rattles along like an El train fuelled by street talk and shop floor patter. Just like the masters of the hard-boiled novels he’s clearly been reading, Whitehead is a great riffer and one who can play by ear. He sticks closely to Carney but he also easily slips into other people’s skins and speech. It feels as though all the characters, no matter how tangential to the plot, are given their narrative due; all the lost souls and nightowls seen or heard ... But what really sets Harlem Shuffle out from the crowded market of genre fiction and marks it out as distinctly Whiteheadian (has he earned his own adjective?) is its sense of the larger structures its characters shift in, or else are stuck in.
Joseph Andras, tr. Simon Leser
RaveThe Arts DeskAndras brings the story back to life with painful immediacy and palpable urgency ... Half of this novel seems to be shot through with torture, the aspect of the war which did the most to upend notions of the \'France of the Republic, Voltaire, Hugo, Clemenceau, the France of human rights, of Human Rights\' ... This is not to say that this book is a solid slab of revolutionary anti-colonial propaganda (although you get the feeling, in Andras’s hands, it would be equally readable). It is honest about the everyday violence inflicted by both sides ... The other half of the novel is more tender; every other chapter traces Iveton’s relationship with Hélène, a waitress he meets while recovering from a bout of tuberculosis in Paris before and his future wife. The inner life is on full display in these chapters, both the characters’ and, you sense, the novelist’s own.
PositiveThe Arts Desk (UK)For his debut novel Swimming in the Dark, Tomasz Jedrowski manages to capture much of the graininess of his setting -– 1980s Poland in the iron grip of the Communist Party and later martial law – while conveying all the churn and throb and boom and bloom of innocence on the brink of experience ... shored up against the occasionally ill-defined moment are some brilliant set pieces ... Swimming in the Dark, in its angrier moments, might not burn with fire of a James Baldwin novel...but it does have the power to cast us back to, and perhaps even yearn, for the past. Even one we may have never had.