RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)McGuire has pulled off another gripping tale of violence, betrayal and vice ... The North Water, with its compellingly gruesome set-pieces, its cast of idiosyncratic characters, and its spectacular arctic scenes, has already been adapted for television ... The Abstainer’s equally explosive plot and more extensive use of razor-sharp dialogue make it, if anything, even more suited to adaptation ... At the same time, McGuire’s style in The Abstainer is comparatively pared back – leaner, more sculpted – leaving us with what in many ways feels like a less elevated, more conventional novel. At the same time, McGuire’s style in The Abstainer is comparatively pared back – leaner, more sculpted – leaving us with what in many ways feels like a less elevated, more conventional novel ... One hopes that in future works McGuire will give freer rein to his vividly corporeal prose ... nevertheless recognisably a novel by the author of The North Water, something most evident in the collection of radically nihilistic protagonists ... The novel’s evocation of the reek and bustle of Victorian Manchester is never less than atmospherically convincing, but The Abstainer is at its most powerful when probing the human need, no doubt timeless but felt particularly keenly at moments of impending calamity, to believe in some kind of ultimate arbiter of truth and morality in a seemingly chaotic and cruelly arbitrary world. McGuire seems to take a wry delight in having his characters engage in profound philosophical reflections when stone drunk or wired on drugs. No less current is the novel’s subtle scrutiny of the ways that a sense of belonging to two national cultures can, under conditions of crisis, quickly become a test of divided loyalties – an exploration that will doubtless be central to its interest for a good number of readers in Ireland and indeed elsewhere ... If The Abstainer seems less stylistically innovative and aesthetically ambitious than The North Water, it is, nevertheless, a superbly written novel; McGuire is undoubtedly a master of his medium and never puts a foot wrong. With its engrossing historical setting, frenzied plot, and impeccable prose, The Abstainer may well earn McGuire his widest readership yet.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... is in many respects a more moving and more refined work, exhibiting the author’s facility for painting the contemporary world using a Gothic palette while paring back the propensity towards merely gratuitous strangeness or obscurity ... these moments of descriptive extravagance, far from seeming gratuitous, work brilliantly to chart intensities of emotional experience, conveying the rawness of childhood, the turbulence of teenage passion, the anaesthetising paralysis of depression and the claustrophobic oppressiveness of grief in ways that are never less than entirely convincing ... simply could not have been adequately told any other way. Johnson also seems to have become more confident in the pacing of her narrative, dwelling on apparently minor scenes and trusting to the taut and richly suggestive prose to hold the reader’s interest ... a simpler and more finely crafted novel that displays Johnson’s gifts in the very best light ... for all its warping of time and space and its unbridled flights of lyricism, Sisters demonstrates Johnson’s mature instinct for knowing when a novel needs to elaborate and when it needs to hold back. The haunting directness and simplicity of the final lines are nearly unrivalled in contemporary prose, keeping company with Kazuo Ishiguro or JM Coetzee at their best ... a small but perfectly formed novel ... Johnson’s predilection for the abject, the monstrous and the ominous are marshalled to real purpose, revealing a writer whose precocious talents seem bound only to increase with every new work.
J. M Coetzee
MixedThe Financial Times (UK)The Death of Jesus brings to a close JM Coetzee’s enigmatic trilogy, one of the strangest literary projects of the past decade ... beyond these rather loose connections, the relevance of Jesus to this trilogy is oblique at best. Rather, Coetzee’s real concern seems to lie in dramatising the all-too-human desire to find greater meaning in books and individuals’ lives than either can sustain ... The philosophical mood of the novel is at once central to its interest and perhaps its most alienating quality. Too many characters seem to speak in the same deliberative, quietly articulate, contrived way ... the result is a novel that is simply less involving than the Nobel laureate’s finest works, or even the other novels in the trilogy. It is also difficult to escape the feeling that issues Coetzee has explored so incisively elsewhere here never get off the ground ... Readers new to Coetzee would do better to turn their attention to the undisputed masterpieces of his oeuvre ... But for those hooked on his crystalline prose and probing explorations of ethical responsibility, The Death of Jesus is a necessary read, casting a strange new light on one of the world’s greatest and most elusive novelists
RaveFinancial TimesPorter’s second book, Lanny, is every bit as thrilling and bizarre [as his first novel] ... Lanny defies straightforward generic classification, with its shifts between continuous and lineated prose ... Though these strange forms might suggest that Lanny is a difficult book, it is, in fact, eminently readable—partly because of its dreamlike lucidity ... The most jarring aspect of Lanny is the juxtaposition of its fantastical cast of characters (reminiscent of Jim Crace in his stranger moods) and its unapologetically contemporary setting ... It is difficult not to see this as in some sense a \'post-Brexit\' book, which dramatizes and critiques a certain idea of national character. Sometimes this is not subtly done ... Lanny is an unabashedly peculiar little book. Some readers may find the strangeness of the form and Porter’s propensity for bizarre metaphors and lavish figurative language off-putting, even pretentious. But for those willing to suspend judgment about what a good novel \'should\' look like, it is a magically beguiling work, a triumph of artistic vision.
RaveThe Financial TimesJim Crace captures more concretely than perhaps any other writer the permanence of absence, Crace’s novels are nothing so straightforward as allegory; we are offered no takeaway messages or pat moralities.
A book at once full of wry humour and achingly sad, The Melody is every bit as strange, otherworldly, and finely wrought as readers have come to expect of Crace. This is a fine contribution to the oeuvre of perhaps the most underrated novelist writing in English today.
RaveFinancial Times...a ravishing tale of love ... This novel is every bit as strange and sensuous as Celt’s lyrical debut, The Daughters ... Despite its exceedingly dark subject matter, however, the novel possesses a human warmth that even Nabokov’s most tender novel, Pnin, never quite manages to achieve ... To write a homage to arguably the finest English-language prose stylist of the 20th century takes a great deal of nerve. Fortunately, Seattle-born Celt is an exquisite writer; her sentences take hold of you and will not let go ... Celt writes with great tenderness and humour ... The novel’s critique of Nabokov is as sharp as the admiration is intense ... The question invited by every homage is whether it merits being read by those who are unfamiliar with the source of inspiration. In the case of Invitation to a Bonfire, the answer is, emphatically, \'yes.\'