Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken
MixedNew York Times Book Review\"Perhaps because they have so much more to compete with, this volume’s evocations of domestic life — fraught spats with Linda about who will mind the children in the apartment in Malmo, grueling family vacations, simmering irritation with the stridently politically correct parents of the kids’ school friends, shopping for dinner parties — are not only exhaustive, but downright exhausting ... All this, finally, brings us to the main event, by far the finest thing in this strange book and, in my experience, the best thing Knausgaard has written, marked by enormous intellectual panache and quite different from anything else in the novel (it’s amazing how lively the writing suddenly is when he’s not writing about himself): a nearly 400-page close reading of \'Mein Kampf,\' complete with detours through related texts, in which the author tries to recover and reproduce the lived experience of the frustrated, depressed and impoverished young man who would become the Nazi tyrant... Yet this intriguing notion forces you into an uncomfortable reconsideration of Knausgaard himself. As I closed the final volume of My Struggle, struck by how little this hugely ambitious artistic undertaking had moved me, I thought about the emotions that course through it and how they are presented.... Knausgaard’s creation, for all its vastness and despite its serious intellectual aims and attainments, reduces the entire world to the size of the author. \
PositiveNew York MagazineBel Canto is an unexpected transformation in Patchett\'s writing ... Patchett takes another, subtler route, weaving her story from the four months of forced cohabitation of the jungle guerillas and their prisoners ... In the new novel, the group of characters whom Patchett has chosen to assemble, which includes diplomats, political ideologues, priests, and artists, elevates the narrative to the level of allegory ... The ascent from chaos to culture that Patchett charts is a gradual, even languid one (at times, rather too languid) ... Patchett takes her time getting there, but by the climax of her story, you find yourself hoping that the idyll will -- somehow, magically -- last. Of course, it can\'t. The fact that it lasts as long as it does, in such improbable circumstances, is a testament to her own magical powers.
PanThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThe Song of Achilles does not, in fact, belong to Achilles at all. The not uninteresting conceit of Miller’s book is that it’s narrated by a character who is both central to the action of the Iliad and curiously shadowy: Patroclus, Achilles’ highborn companion … The real Achilles’ heel of this book is tone — one made disastrously worse by the author’s decision to metamorphose an ancient story of heroes into a modern tale of hormones...The problem reaches crisis proportions in the handling of the ‘love affair,’ which begins with an embarrassing breathlessness (‘My chest trilled with something I could not quite name’) and climaxes — sorry! — in the long-awaited and, it must be said, cringe-inducing consummation.
Jonathan Safran Foer
RaveNew YorkLike so many young writers, Foer is steeped in the wink-wink orthodoxies of postmodernism; but unlike so many of them he has put his narrative prestidigitation in the service of some very serious themes … As the book proceeds, the two narratives gravitate toward each other, the first moving forward in time, the second moving backward, as Alex's grandfather starts to reveal his own memories of the war. At the quite devastating climax of the book, you realize how the two tales are related, a connection that forever sunders Alex from Jonathan … Foer's interest in doubles, in halves that must become wholes, in intertwining the fictional and the ‘real,’ is more than just a gimmick. It's a remarkably effective way of dwelling on an issue of considerable urgency in Holocaust literature: the seemingly hopeless split between history and narrative, between what happened and what can be told.
RaveNew YorkI'm not sure what the exact definition of a ‘great American novel’ is, but I'm pretty sure that Michael Chabon's sprawling, idiosyncratic, and wrenching new book is one … The story Chabon tells is a quirky and yet quintessentially American rags-to-riches-and-beyond tale that manages to include a boat full of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler, an attempt to spirit the Golem out of Prague, the history of comic books, a visit to Houdini's grave, a screening of Citizen Kane, a party for Salvador Dalí, bar mitzvahs at the Pierre, a lower-middle-class Brooklyn apartment and an 'arty' Greenwich Village townhouse, a straight love affair, a gay love affair, Governor Al Smith, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
PanThe New York Review of BooksEugenides’s novel seems itself to be composed of two distinct and occasionally warring halves. One part has to do with hermaphrodites—with Callie’s condition, and how she comes to discover what she ‘really’ is. The other, far more successful part has to do with Greeks—and, in a way, Greekness. Far more colorful than the story of what Callie is, is the story of how she came to be that way—the story of why this child came to inherit the exceedingly rare and fateful gene that ends up defining her indefinable life … A major problem with Middlesex is that there’s nothing all that interesting or distinctive about either half of the main character: one is a fairly ordinary Midwestern girl (except, perhaps, for her growing tendency to develop crushes on other girls), the other an all-too-typically sardonic, post-everything American male.
RaveNew York MagazineMcEwan shows how accidents of history can elevate private shame and error to the world-historical plane … It isn't, in fact, until you get to the surprising coda of this ravishingly written book that you begin to see the beauty of McEwan's design – and the meaning of his title…Atonement's postmodern surprise ending is the perfect close to a book that explores, with beauty and rigor, the power of art and the limits of forgiveness. Briony Tallis may need to atone, but Ian McEwan has nothing to apologize for.
MixedThe New Yorker...at the beginning of the novel, events hew so closely to the Greek originals that you may wonder why the author has bothered to retell this old tale at all ... But before long a number of additions, omissions, and tweaks to the Greek versions make it clear that Tóibín is just as comfortable playing around with the traditional narrative as Euripides was ... however ambitious its themes and refined its literary allusiveness, House of Names never quite comes to life. Part of the problem is, predictably, technical. The diction, as so often in modern attempts to render ancient voices, wobbles between being strenuously high and, sometimes, jarringly banal. And while Tóibín has evidently immersed himself in the tragic texts, there’s something fuzzy and unpersuasive about the ambience in which his legendary characters operate ... House of Names falls between two horses. On the one hand, the author wants to use myth, with its strong archetypal patterns ('vengeance begets vengeance'), to illustrate his political point; on the other, he wants to demythologize myth, cutting its heroic characters down to modern size, giving them recognizable psychologies and more or less normal motivations. But you can’t have your ambrosia and eat it, too.
PanThe New York Review of BooksA Little Life never strays from its four principals, and, as other critics have noted, the novel provides so little historical, cultural, or political detail that it’s often difficult to say precisely when the characters’ intense emotional dramas take place. Yet A Little Life, like its predecessor, gets hopelessly sidetracked by a secondary narrative—one in which, strikingly, homosexual pedophilia is once again the salient element ... In the case of Yanagihara’s novel, the 'real' feeling—not only what the book is about but, I suspect, what its admirers crave—is pain rather than pleasure ... as A Little Life progresses, the author seems to lose interest in everyone but the tragic victim, Jude. Malcolm, in particular, is never more than a cipher, all too obviously present to fill the biracial slot.