RaveThe New York Review of BooksSullivan’s voice has a suppleness that canters within the formal constraints she imposes on it ... she can be mischievous in her rhyming ... At times it feels like it’s overreaching, taking in philosophical discussions of nothingness and Shelley’s ars poetica; but...it is always pulled back by Sullivan’s astonishing capacity for the seen, the telling analogy, or visual set-piece ... Sullivan’s choice of register is one of her main assets ... chatty and offhanded, while evoking both spring’s excess and a certain insubstantiality. She’s an exquisite image-maker and analogist ... Sullivan never forgets to bring her celestial concerns down to the human scale.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of Books... a tome, largely to its detriment. We are told the story of David and Bathsheba in several ways, told it to near-exhaustion: we see it in its context, we see it through tapestries, actors, imagination — with little alteration or contradiction. The first two-thirds of the book is — after a fashion — backstory ... It’s not that the parallels between David’s world and Wyatt’s fail to cohere, but the imbalance and flatness of the David section serves ultimately as occlusion rather than expansion ... Another frustration for the reader comes from the fact that, on the whole, the events that punctuate both the David and Wyatt narratives mostly occur elsewhere and are mentioned in passing or retrospect...This method can lead to awkwardness in the narrative, as well as to reiteration ... This grumbling is largely to do with the fact that there is much to admire here, beneath all the brocades, especially in the founding ideas from which Cook is somewhat corseted by her own narrative maneuverings. The precariousness of being prey to larger, unreasoning forces, to the dangers of being singled out as exceptional in an environment in which conformity is a matter of survival, is compellingly handled, while the mostly implicit question as to why anyone would want a king at all acts as a subversive, sorrowful shadow narrative.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)There has been a relative proliferation of memoirs of this type in recent times...all speaking to a resurgent desire for unmediated peril in an increasingly automated, isolating world ... At root, this is a story of trying to earn redemption for a scarring childhood incident, in which a younger, less surly Coffin took a dive during a fun run, and of seeking revenge against a sentimental masculinity thrust upon him by his father during his adolescence ... Coffin, we sense, would have been insufferable during this period, learning banjo in anger and making deskbound old schoolfriends spar with him over the holidays when all they want to do is watch television. Fortunately, his narrative benefits from the gift of hindsight, and he makes reasonable efforts to temper the worst excesses of his studied machismo ... It is made clear in his mostly spare but tidy prose that for Coffin, unlike his fellow brawlers, this life is choice rather than necessity ... If the strained-for Arthurian symbolism and proliferation of butch touchstones are grating, there is at least an occasional breakthrough to something unguarded, not least in a brilliant portrait of a female fighter who, through her ability to tap into gentleness and joy rather than running on the self-conscious posing Coffin opted for, is a far more complete boxer. Only hinted at, for the most part, the stories of women in this book, the female fighters and Coffin’s mother especially, are what rescue it from being a recruitment drive for garage fight clubs.