PanThe Sunday Times (UK)Bate assures us that \'the parallels between their lives are uncanny\', but they are not, however he angles it. Nor do such “parallels” as he does identify — GSOH, keen on beauty, objectified women, liked a drink, health problems — prove equally illuminating for both writers. Sure, it helps in understanding Fitzgerald’s work to know how much Keats meant to him; tracking Fitzgerald’s messy career does not equivalently help in understanding Keats, though, for obvious reasons of chronology — unless, that is, you are old-fashioned enough to believe in \'essences\', as Bate stoutly does ... This odd composition makes sense in the context of Bate’s own scholarly interests, however ... rather a romantic performance.
RaveThe Times (UK)Even now, Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) remains, in the English-speaking world at least, one of the lesser-known of the truly great writers of the 20th century. This immense, magnificent biography by Richard Zenith is going to change that ... you finish wholly engrossed, not wanting the book one page shorter, despite all the Portuguese history and side biographies that bulk it up. And the reason for that is Pessoa’s own writing, so perfectly introduced, quoted and translated by Zenith throughout. It justifies all this demand on your attention: so direct and original, possessing throughout — despite Pessoa’s disbelief in there being any such thing as an essential self — the radical honesty that’s the mark of all great writing.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Even now, Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) remains, in the English-speaking world at least, one of the lesser-known of the truly great writers of the 20th century. This immense, magnificent biography by Richard Zenith is going to change that ... you finish wholly engrossed, not wanting the book one page shorter, despite all the Portuguese history and side biographies that bulk it up. And the reason for that is Pessoa’s own writing, so perfectly introduced, quoted and translated by Zenith throughout. It justifies all this demand on your attention: so direct and original, possessing throughout — despite Pessoa’s disbelief in there being any such thing as an essential self — the radical honesty that’s the mark of all great writing ... So for a previously casual reader, like me, who had done no more than glance at some of Pessoa’s poetry and intermittently browse his prose masterpiece The Book of Disquiet (although not in Zenith’s superb edition and translation), here is a revelation: a modern master to rank alongside Joyce, Kafka, Beckett, say. Such a revolutionary literary discovery seems unlikely to be on offer again. It’s that good ... Zenith is judiciously sympathetic about the extraordinary vagaries of Pessoa’s life ... Great writers can be recognised as such only by future generations, since true genius is always ahead of its time, Pessoa argued. With the publication of this terrific life, his time has come.
PanThe Times (UK)Conspiracy theories always have their allure. Yet not only does The Death of Camus not offer any evidence for its claims, it is so badly written throughout as to discredit itself immediately. Catelli’s prose makes Dan Brown’s look good. He piles on the adjectives, overstates every claim. He is particularly fond of calling upon \'fate\'.You would not trust someone who writes as dreadfully as this to tell you how to boil an egg ... That’s enough for Catelli, though. He contacts Zabrana’s widow and has clandestine meetings with nameless men who possibly used to be in the Czech secret service. None confirms anything ... It is true that the KGB did assassinate many dissidents abroad, and that the French intelligence services at the time were heavily compromised by the Soviets. But the idea that General de Gaulle would have licensed the murder of France’s Nobel laureate, the author of The Outsider and The Plague — to prevent him criticising Khrushchev’s forthcoming state visit to France, Catelli further suggests — is not credible.
PanThe Spectator (UK)... a travesty ... Everything about The Sentinel is clumsy ... Andrew Child knows what he should be doing; he just can’t manage it ... this Reacher says far too much. He’s a loquacious bore, a pedant, quibbling about words and given to explaining things at great length before he takes action. His mystique is dissolved by too much information all round ... the slowed-down action sequences simply don’t work. They have none of the grace of Lee’s own rhythm and syntax. Peculiarly fixated on left hands and right hands, they read like instruction manuals translated from another language ... attempts to emulate Lee Child’s withholding of necessary information (also known as suspense) on the level of plot but it just doesn’t sustain interest or coherently resolve. The attempt to move Reacher into the digital age (he tries a mobile) is a mistake, simply ... So, let’s accept, Lee Child is a writer who can’t be so easily reproduced. There is much more to his work than the transferable asset of Reacher ... The Reacher franchise has such momentum, the books will doubtless continue to sell anyway, just as those issued under the names of Robert Ludlum and James Patterson do. We still have those 24 originals, though. Like Wodehouse, they can be read repeatedly.
J. M Coetzee
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)... These are strange novels, easily guyed as clumsy allegories, full of sententious philosophizing, deliberately flatly written, too easily claiming significance through their allusion to the Biblical story. I can only report that I have found them, despite the bafflement, full of truth, irreducible, tearfully moving to read.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)[Harvey] throws it all in: memories of her childhood, the text of a short story she is working on, her fear of the menopause, her regrets about childlessness, her encounters with her doctor... her experience of being assaulted once in Australia, her fascination with Daniel Everett’s great books about the Pirahã people of the Amazon whose language has no past or future tenses, her joy in wild swimming and again her anger about Brexit, factory farming, death and the way people speed through her village ... \'My mind is a cacophony,\' she says — and her memoir, vividly well written in parts, is true to that, an unholy mess.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Pozzi’s story is absolute catnip to Barnes — and he has made from it one of his best books ... It ticks all his boxes: immersing himself in the cultural life of 19th-century France, contrasting this with British insularity now and then, playing with life-facts, and puzzling about sex ... It’s a bravura performance, highly entertaining even if it covers some familiar ground rather didactically ... although repeatedly reproving \'sexual gossip\', especially when it’s treated as the shortest route to getting at the truth about people, Barnes loves to indulge in it himself, on a higher level of course.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)Matar is a master of pellucid statement that seems simple yet is exactly right. He describes the city beautifully ... He is equally eloquent about the paintings he loves, many of them reproduced in the book ... This is an exquisite, deeply affecting book, one in which an experience of dislocation and loss is conveyed in prose that flows so clearly and gracefully it finds continuities and connections all the time. It is also, although Proust is not among the many artists directly cited here, profoundly Proust-ian, many sentences actually adopting his syntax, becoming themselves acts of comprehension and recovery.
John Le Carre
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Ian McEwan has just published a novella about Brexit that is so bad-tempered and contemptuous of those he doesn’t agree with that it’s a betrayal of his talent. In Agent Running in the Field, John le Carré who celebrates his 88th birthday this weekend, has integrated the subject and his anger about it into fiction much more thoroughly and seductively ... scenes that give lots of scope to le Carré’s undiminished enjoyment of vivid characterisation and gamey, heavily accented dialogue ... as ingeniously structured as any of le Carré’s fiction, skilfully misdirecting the reader for much of the time. True, the language, though charming and fluent, feels like a burnished antique, never that of man in his forties now, belonging rather to an earlier era ... As always, there’s considerable genre-suitable sentimentality, about the young, about women, especially. But then le Carré has developed into an immensely stylised writer, the creator of his own fictional world. At this point in his career, we can only be grateful for another chance to join him there.
MixedThe Evening Standard (UK)How did the Booker end up such a muddle? Perhaps partly because it was so overtly, this year, a prize devoted to celebrating diversity above other forms of excellence in fiction ... If diversity is what you value most in new fiction — and given that one of the great purposes of fiction is to help us understand the experiences of others, it might very well be — then it seems almost indecent to prize one form of diversity more than another. So that would make it difficult to choose a single winner wouldn’t it? Unless perhaps it is possible to decide which novel is, as it might be almost quantitatively, the most diverse? That novel this year is Girl, Woman, Other ... highly readable, even slightly saga-ish ... Despite the lack of conventional punctuation Girl, Woman, Other makes for fast, easy reading, but it never deepens much as a novel beyond this level of quasi-sociological reportage, skimming along.
PanThe Evening Standard (UK)...self-satisfied amusement, almost a merry caper ... McEwan has constructed a fable here to please all those who find it incomprehensible that anyone could support Brexit. For all his glorious fluency, he can’t empathise with such people himself. So he has designated them cockroaches. That’s what the Hutus called the Tutsis (\'inyenzi\') to dehumanise them. It’s a term that brought Katie Hopkins into disgrace. The Cockroach is not a book to cast any light on our polarisation. It is, rather, a feeble attempt to make a joke of what is no joke. Still, that’s indicative in itself.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)Robert Harris has a wonderful ability to make the minute circumstances of life in any era not only immediately believable but compelling in themselves. He has pulled off this feat so many times now it’s easy to take it for granted — but it’s a rare accomplishment and plays a key part in making his novels so gripping and enjoyable ... Harris is obviously tickled by the idea that we are becoming dangerously dependent on our devices — but he teasingly keeps this back-story fragmentary, while taking us close-up into Fairfax’s struggle to comprehend and survive the mess he has found himself in. The result is a truly surprising future-history thriller. Fabulous, really.
RaveThe Evening StandardDream Sequence, incisively well-written and alluringly readable is, among other things, a really good London novel. Adam Foulds is acutely sensitive to shifting environments, conveying them brilliantly with few words. This prose is truly poetic, being concise, not impasto ... this novel also moves like a thriller, as these different vacancies, Henry and Kristin, collide in their desires. A terrific book about the realities and delusions of fame distorting the way we live now: not to be missed.
RaveThe Evening StandardIt\'s an extraordinary book, one that sucks you in by appearing at first to be a fairly conventional story about four friends, just graduated, making their way in their careers in New York — and then, once you are hooked, turning into another kind of experience entirely, quite harrowing and obsessive, anguishing and unforgiving, an \'emotional horror story\', [Hanya Yanagihara] concedes. It leaves you feeling pretty traumatised yourself, aware just how affected you have been by merely reading it ... A Little Life is quite deliberately a fable, not social realism (although set in New York over the past three or four decades, it doesn\'t mention 9/11, Aids or other obvious reference points), and all the more powerful for it. The truths it tells are wrenching, permanent.