MixedThe Sunday Times (UK)Binet certainly has fun ... It is a novel that flatters the reader’s intellect: the more you know about the Renaissance the more you’ll recognise ... The problem is that it feels like showing off rather than anything properly considered. There could be a point to this counterfactual history, giving us a consideration of Christianity seen through the eyes of baffled outsiders who find it difficult to accept that a powerful god \'let his son be nailed to a cross by the men he was trying to help\', or thinking through how Europe might have developed had tolerance prevailed rather than religions at war. But these lines are never properly pursued; instead Binet gives in to the temptation of the easy joke — an artist named Michelangelo makes a sculpture of Viracocha, creator of celestial bodies; Henry VIII dissolves the monasteries and replaces them with Temples of the Sun; Francis I has his heart ripped out on that Louvre pyramid. So yes, it’s fun, but it’s not substantial. Still, perhaps that’s enough.
Alice Zeniter, Tr. by Frank Wynne
RaveThe Times (UK)... remarkable ... Despite postmodern flourishes — suggesting then denying Naïma is the author — this is an old-fashioned family saga, yet because it deals with immigration, nationalism and Islam, it speaks urgently to our time, particularly as Naïma confronts dilemmas facing even second-generation immigrants. The moral weight of her story is won through the superbly handled earlier sections dealing with the complexities of Ali’s loyalties during the war of independence, as Zeniter evenly catalogues the atrocities on both sides. Through Hamid she shows how immigrant families fracture down the generations, alienated from their roots while still not fitting into their host society. This is a novel about people that never loses its sense of humanity.
PanThe Times (UK)Mick Herron’s series of thrillers about a dysfunctional outpost of the secret service has become a bestselling phenomenon and seen him crowned \'the new king of the spy thriller.\' Herron is an excellent writer. All the books open with a dramatic incident, like the pre-credit sequence of a Bond film. Part One is a series of (usually low-key) disconcerting events while new characters are introduced. In Part Two the plot strands come together with chases, violence and deaths. Every novel closes with another downbeat tour of Slough House. The formula never changes ... In contrast to this self-consciously anti-PC outspokenness, the novels have a mainstream, soft-left, anti-Brexit political view ... Is Lamb’s outrageousness merely to distract from an otherwise comfortably orthodox liberal attitude in which the secret service is often out of control, subject to the personal whims and right-wing agendas of a complacently corrupt establishment? Perhaps the time has come to call Herron out.
Javier Cercas, Trans. by Anne McLean
RaveThe Times (UK)Javier Cercas’s last book, The Impostor (2017)...is one of the most accomplished books I’ve ever read. His new novel is even better. It opens with an agonised liberal facing up to an embarrassing family past, and ends as a wise and humane meditation on history ... [Cercas] gains (and gives us) a deeper, more nuanced understanding of that terrible conflict ... everything he writes is diligently factual. Yet it is through literary references that he gives us purchase on Mena’s story ... Perhaps because we have not had to face such a terrible national moral trauma, there is no one writing in English like this: engaged humanity achieving a hard-won wisdom. It is powerful stuff.
Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)This is an extraordinary book. A dark saga related in sprawling sentences, made denser still by obscure and difficult vocabulary, it is everything I usually hate in a novel. Instead, I was spellbound ... The first half, especially, is full of those dense sprawling sentences, gnarly with obscure words (eclose, muliebral, commensal, ataraxic). This gives the prose an eerie, otherworldly texture. The strangeness of the words, used with precision and scientific exactitude...slows your reading down, immersing you more in the scene on the page, and those scenes are so vividly imagined and conveyed ... a kind of savage reimagining of Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence. By the latter part, something has obviously gone monstrously awry and it is not merely wrong but evil. This section is perhaps too obvious and heavy-handed in its condemnation of industrial agriculture, but the first half of this novel is a considerable achievement and worth reading for that alone.
Javier Marías Trans. by Margaret Jull Costa
MixedThe TimesMarias takes a 19th-century approach to novel writing. He begins with the childhoods of Berta and Tomas and their first meeting at school in Madrid. He writes long, dense sentences that would please Henry James and require a similar level of concentration: though the payoff is a precision of nuance, the cost can be airless, claustrophobic prose. He is also given to sententious generalisation ...  s constructed from a handful of long conversations — between Berta and Tomas, Tomas and his Oxford tutor, Berta and other agents. These are thoughtful, intelligent examinations of the existential dilemma of the spy, but are unlikely as actual chats ... Under the pressure of all this cleverness, the novel feels abstracted, which is not helped by Tomas being so emotionally detached. This is perfect for a spy, but all the other characters are cold, too ... Berta Isla is a substantial, serious book about the human cost of being a secret agent, but it’s a peculiarly unsatisfactory novel.
Walter Kempowski, Trans. by Charlotte Collins
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"... deceptively straightforward ... Kempowski’s artfully naive style delivers wince-making moments of sly satire ... darkly excellent.\
Willem Frederik Hermans, Trans. by David Colmer
PositiveThe Times (UK)An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated by David Colmer...is so hauntingly strange as to be like a dream, but one that becomes a violent nightmare ... Comparisons with Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut and even Kafka are not unreasonable, but Hermans has his own strong flavor. An Untouched House is shocking, and the seeming collapse of moral consequence is properly unsettling.
MixedThe Sunday TimesSadly it’s very formulaic. Anyone who has read more than a couple of the post-Fleming Bond novels knows that we are going to get references to his knitted tie, love of scrambled eggs and heather honey, Scottish housekeeper, scarred cheek, moccasin shoes… There’s (much, much) more but that’s enough. Then there’s the customary sequence of scenes ... Exposition is clunkingly shovelled in ... There are moments so clunsy, you groan ... Still, if you can put all that behind you, it is a fun read—the well-worked-out plot is nicely twisting, even managing a surprise at the end, and there’s also some original, unpublished Fleming material in one chapter. Horowitz excels at action sequences and more than a third of the novel is taken up with car chases, shoot-outs, fights and explosions, so it’s by no means all bad.
Yasmina Reza, Trans. by Linda Asher
PositiveThe Sunday TimesAs there are pages of nothing but dialogue batted back and forth between characters, and all the action is essentially confined to the apartment block, this could easily be one of Reza’s plays, but she also draws on the novel-form’s richer resources to indicate relationships outside the scope of the story’s action, and to pursue a theme about the haunting power of old photographs. The lightness of touch bordering on comedy that she brings to an otherwise dark tale is a reminder of her strengths as a dramatic writer, and it all adds up to a strange and memorable short book.
PositiveThe Times (UK)The novel opens in 1894 with the 24-year-old Brodie working at Channon’s piano shop in Edinburgh...Brodie’s entrepreneurial flair is soon recognized by the head of the company, who sends him to run their Paris branch and expand their business there...Brodie meets Lydia Blum, a Russian soprano destined to be the love of his life, although their affair results in them going on the run in fear of their lives ... Boyd writes these passages superbly, so that even if you know nothing about pianos they are still fascinating ... The novel teems with extraneous characters and details—visits to prostitutes, an alcoholic brother, a young rich Russian bohemian intellectual. Few of them are necessary to the narrative, but all add to its compelling realism.
Domenico Starnone, Trans. by Jhumpa Lahiri
RaveThe Times (UK)\"These strained relationships already make this engrossing, but then there is something darker still ... Starnone packs a huge amount into a small compass, as he did in his last novel ... For a while Starnone was suspected of being the best-selling author [Ferrante]. With Trick, he shows yet again that he is a much more literarily sophisticated writer than that.\