MixedLiterary ReviewThe old-style publisher’s memoir, which reached its high-water mark between about 1920 and 1950, was a relatively staid affair ... The signature mark of this apologia pro vita sua was, naturally, praise: praise for the authors whose careers he had boosted and praise for the associates who had helped him on his way, with perhaps a dire warning or two about the likelihood of the modern publishing scene very soon going to hell in a handcart. How odd, then, that Lennie Goodings, longtime chatelaine of Virago, the greatest feminist outfit in the history of British publishing, should have written a book that, once you subtract the feminism, reads as if it could have been put together in the library of the Savile Club about three-quarters of a century ago ... the light that gently emanates from A Bite of the Apple is practically roseate in its hue. Then there is the fact that, like many a book-world memoirist from the mid-20th-century golden age, Goodings can’t quite work out whether she is writing an account of her own affairs or the glorious undertakings in which she was engaged ... Goodings sharply conveys the intense communality of Virago in the independent years – the sense of everyone involved being on a collective mission to do good, the devoted authors, the loyal readers ... but also aware of some of the conflicts that ran beneath.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)If Tom Rachman\'s first novel has a flagrant drawback, it\'s that his account of some of the tribulations facing the modern newspaper man (and woman) is unlikely to send any wide-eyed recruits scampering towards what on this evidence is a deeply neurotic profession ... To move his story forwards, Rachman offers 11 representative figures, whose personal lives are intimately connected to the paper\'s slow decline ... All this is played out with – in most cases – a fair degree of subtlety ... At the same time there are drawbacks to the short-story-collection-as-novel form, particularly one set around a newspaper, where the metaphorical tide can sometimes sweep in a little too violently for comfort ... Then there is the novel\'s faint yet persistent resemblance to Joshua Ferris\'s And So We Came to the End, much of whose obliquity and ground-down communal spirit it shares. But these are quibbles. Anyone who has ever spent time in newspaperland will recognise The Imperfectionists high degree of authenticity.
MixedThe Times (UK)... one of those curious books whose universality comes combined with a kind of minute particularisation ... There are also some wonderfully funny quasi-rants on what Matthew Arnold would have called Regrettable Modern Tendencies ... As well as being funny, despairing and sharply observed, it simply goes on too long, digresses too much and compromises its attack by way of inconsequentiality. You could argue that what defines Ellmann’s practised avant-garderie is not so much her weakness for dreadful puns, CAPITAL LETTERS and italicising words for no apparent reason, but her reluctance to discriminate ... Several hundred thousand words later, the reader stumbles forth exhausted with the sense of having gone up several hundred cul-de-sacs, in which passages of great beauty alternate with tedious lists. And so delight in the spectacle of a tiny independent publisher from Norwich taking on the big boys in the Booker is tempered by a suspicion that over much of Ducks, Newburyport hangs a faint air of desultoriness.
RaveThe Guardian...[a] highly astute study ... Thoroughly researched and wearing its scholarship lightly, The Ministry of Truth is at its best in some of its pop cultural gleanings ... If Lynskey misses anything, it is a suspicion that Nineteen Eighty-Four’s roots may lie even further back in Orwell’s work. After all, each of his four 1930s novels features a central character ground down and oppressed by a vigilant authority that he or she has no way of resisting.
PositiveThe GuardianFor a scholarly study of the British educational system’s upper tier, Gilded Youth is unusually rife with tension. Much of its air of unease is down to an underlying conflict, in this case the stand-off between James Brooke-Smith’s commitment to professional objectivity and the personal prejudice boiling up beneath it ... All this gives these well-researched pages on the theme of public school \'rebellion\' an undeniable piquancy ... A glance at Brooke-Smith’s bibliography reveals just how widely he has read in the vast literature of the public school – not least the thousands of boys’ school stories that were set in it. If Gilded Youth has a weakness, it’s the fact that its author seems to imagine that all private schools are the same. But relativism affects the public school system as much as any other part of our national life.
PositiveThe Times\"Yet, as Spurling shows in extravagant detail, Powell’s modest upbringing lay between him and the \'smart\' friends he made at school and university like a sheet of glass ... The problem, as Spurling puts it, \'was that Tony was basically ineligible. He had no prospects, no connections, nothing to inherit and he wasn’t related to anyone people had ever heard of in the world of debutante dances and court presentations.\' Against this backdrop, any efforts to infiltrate the beau monde (an environment that always fascinated him) were doomed to failure ... some of Spurling’s best bits of sleuthing work relate to its long gestation and the origins of its multitudinous cast. She is careful to avoid the narrowly reductive life-into-art line of much Powell criticism... Instead she argues for the complexity of his approach to characterisation ... None of this, though, should obscure Spurling’s achievement... My only serious complaint is that this biography should have been published 20 years ago.\
PositiveThe GuardianBerry’s essays roam widely ... But the majority of them return, out of a kind of disgust, to the idea of betrayal, and the way in which the U.S. farming industry has abandoned its responsibility to the terrain it has been cultivating for the last century and a half. The startling aspect of this charge sheet is its proxy villain, which is neither the cereal companies nor the burger chains but the American dream ... Berry’s agrarian arguments are persuasive ... If there is an argument against Berry’s icy anti-corporatism it is simultaneously practical—what works well in Kentucky may not solve the food problems of an overpopulated planet—and philosophical. It’s all very well railing against consumer materialism, but, as Orwell once pointed out in a slightly different context, consumer materialism is about all the western world’s poorer classes have got left ... perhaps Berry will have the last laugh. Whether by that stage in human evolution it will be worth having is another matter.
RaveThe National\"Meanwhile, the complexity of public attitudes towards the human body – the subject of Kathryn Hughes’s deeply entertaining book ... Hughes has clearly thought long and hard about this paradox ... As the author of well-received biographies of George Eliot and Mrs Beeton, Hughes is a dab hand at dealing with this kind of material, and Victorians Undone is, in most respects, an object lesson in that new style of \'life-writing\', which comes in at an angle and takes a positive pleasure in examining its subjects from vantage points that they would not have dreamed of occupying themselves. If there are two minor drawbacks, they lie, first, in the cherry-picker approach that – necessarily – seeks to illuminate the ordinary by way of the exceptional, and, second, in the occasional oddities of the style. You can see the author’s dilemma ... On the other hand, her eye for incriminating detail never fails, and I was appalled to learn that Queen Victoria’s personal physician only discovered that his patient had spent 40 years suffering from a prolapsed uterus when he examined her body after death.\
RaveThe GuardianWhere Garnett improved on the traditional talent-spotting role of publisher’s ‘reader’ was in his enthusiasm and attention to detail. As Smith demonstrates, the aspiring authors who caught his attention could expect to have their work chewed over, their excesses reined in, their published books mentioned in the literary articles he wrote … Well-researched, neatly written and not above the occasional flash of sly humour, The Uncommon Reader is, necessarily, the study of a circle, or rather a milieu, as much as the man who stares doggedly from its cover. Its ultimate destiny, you fear, is to be cherry-picked for information about its famous names. But Smith does her best for Garnett, sees the point of the aesthetic wars he fought and the value of some of his comparative literary judgments.
Piers Paul Read
PositiveThe GuardianWhat kind of historical novel have we here? The answer is a somewhat old-fashioned one – formal, demure and propagandist by turns ... Read’s always-laconic style has reached a whole new level: cool, detached, plumbing well-nigh fathomless depths of irony while never quite disguising the layers of feeling that lie beneath. Though somewhat recherché in both theme and treatment, Scarpia is, like nearly everything else he has written in the past 49 years, a pleasure to read.
Iris Murdoch (Edited by Avril Horner & Anne Rowe)
PositiveThe GuardianThis bumper selection of her letters is patently something rather more than an attempt to trumpet her qualities as a correspondent. It is also, 16 years after its subject’s minutely documented death from Alzheimer’s disease, and in a world where the canon is apparently in sharp retreat, aimed at furbishing up her status.