PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe nameless protagonist, haunted by a trauma I won’t spoil here, offers consistently sharp and often melancholic treatments of contemporary existence: the theater of joy and disappointment represented by text messages, say, or the depressive signifiers of corporate office life. Watson depicts her protagonist’s consciousness by way of striking formal structures, using typographical tricks to illustrate the cacophonous complexity of inner life ... While this could be distracting, or even indulgent, in lesser hands, Watson’s experiments serve to both deepen our immersion and reify the buried pain at the novel’s center ... I was reminded of the experimental English novelist B. S. Johnson’s House Mother Normal, with its adventurous typography marking the convulsions, stutters and silences of the mind (albeit the geriatric variety). Little Scratch absorbs the more fragmented forms of attention and makes of them something rich, assured and sad.
RaveThe BafflerThe beauty of Garth Greenwell’s sentences belies the disfiguring forces they harbor. As a writer, he is something like a poet-flagellant, suited to painful, precarious states; exquisite hungers and humiliations; the papered-over chasms of desire. Like the work of Jean Genet before him, Greenwell transforms individual appetites into expressions of unlikely commonality. His fictions depict moments of epiphanic desperation—shame, pleasure, remorse, and ecstasy—in which the mysteries of spirit and flesh are rendered briefly legible ... Greenwell is not only a poet of infinite longing and humiliated flesh. There are also moments of almost unbearable gentleness in Cleanness, sentences that feel like pressing on soft tissue ... The extraordinary force of melancholy in Cleanness arises not only from the slow dissolution of the narrator’s relationship with R., but also—perhaps even more forcefully—its bleak assessment of the compatibility between love and eros ... Here is that rare thing, the prose style that effectively sensitizes its readers to the experience of living with and through the consciousness it contains. We are initiated into particular ways of seeing and being, of living with art, with love, with lack, the aperture widening as we grow used to the light. Even if one were to—foolishly—leave aside the richness and ambivalence of its transgressive scrutiny, the aesthetic achievement of Cleanness alone would signal virtuosity.
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Trans. by Ottilie Mulzet
RaveThe Paris Review... a typically extraordinary translation from Ottilie Mulzet ... Ascribing Krasznahorkai’s allure to plot is rarely fruitful; at best, the events are an armature over which the thickened material of consciousness can drape and flow ... The great paradox of his fiction is that the speed and intensity of its sentences suggests a seething, maximalist vision, though what actually happens is quite modest in terms of developed incident ... The wonderful paradox of [Krasznahorkai\'s] thought-killing exercises is that they in fact produce endless waves of foaming cognition. In just a few pages, he touches on the concept of the infinite, fear as the birth of culture, the cowardice of atheism, and the pervasiveness of human illusion ... His fiction’s recursive darkness can obscure its ambiguous grace. It makes space for everything human, which is to say even—and perhaps especially—the inhuman and the frankly monstrous. This is not hysterical realism but the triumph of excess in all its startling, gravid particularity ... a fitting capstone to Krasznahorkai’s tetralogy, one of the supreme achievements of contemporary literature. Now seems as good a time as any to name him among our greatest living novelists.
MixedThe New York TimesDameron’s most compelling writing presses sharply on...brittle beds of shame. It grants particular moments a sinuous, transgressive quality felt most keenly in his Knausgaardian self-loathing and devouring obsession ... But outside of these darkly animated interludes, Dameron’s prose is hampered by stilted dialogue, left-field coarseness...and banal observations that strain toward philosophical heft ... It isn’t bad, per se, it’s simply never unexpected ... The Lie may well anticipate a rich vein of queer memoir, that of the gay family man whose secret truth risks toppling the domestic edifice. It tamps down the tall grass of untold experience, however clumsily, and makes visible a rough but traversable path.
Ingeborg Bachmann, Trans. by Philip Boehm
RaveThe Nation... an existential portrait, a work of desperate obsession, a proto-feminist classic, and one of the most jagged renderings of female consciousness European literature has produced. In its torrent of language, paralyzing lassitude, and relentless constriction of expectation and escape, Malina condenses—and then detonates—the neurasthenic legacy of the interwar Austrian novel. Summary does Malina no favors. Bachmann exhibits great impatience with tidy unities, and any attempt to capture the frothing consciousness at the book’s center is a little like trying to describe a captive tiger’s attack from the other side of the cage ... Malina’s many formal gambits, then, are not only the features of an avant-garde novel, but attempts to outpace the insufficiencies of a language that hides within it a system of control. Like the warping effect of capital, this totalizing grammar tends to co-opt its own critique ... The boil of the narrator’s consciousness is captured in intricate and surprising structures: the dynamic markings of orchestral music (accelerando, crescendo, presto, prestissimo), play-like dialogue, atonal scores, drug-induced mania, and letters signed by \'an unknown woman.\' The effect is an acceleration of thought that enacts its own depletion, like the whirling vortex that drains a basin of its water.
Natalia Ginzburg, Trans. by Minna Proctor
RaveThe Paris Review...this largely epistolary novel recounts the fortunes of an Italian family over the course of a year. Their many letters to one another—charming, hesitant, smothering, futile, untoward—are the rich and wonderfully evasive stuff of a family’s hopes and afflictions, its duplicities, its gossipy, convivial bustle. The disclosures afforded by such a form—the way time telescopes in a phrase or tone—grant each page a stifling intimacy ... Their voices are pungent and earthy ... Like the creations of Chekhov or Mavis Gallant, Ginzburg’s characters believe in themselves to such an extraordinary degree that we cannot help but do the same. Their sense of life, the wonderfully aggrieved fullness of their complaints, the unpredictable actions they take on their own behalf, their energy and canny self-interest, grant them a surplus of reality. This is Ginzburg’s rare genius: that the finely filigreed idiosyncrasies of her characters suggest something much broader, a human—and deeply humane—nature, in which they exalt. The new translation of Happiness, as Such makes the English language one masterpiece richer.
Daša Drndić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
RaveThe Paris ReviewIf we are to follow the pessimistic artist into his annihilating vision, a little poetry goes a long way. The Croatian novelist Daša Drndić, who died of lung cancer last June, gives her readers no such poetry. She would have us take our medicine straight ... The materiality of the past—its shocking, sickening thingness—suffuses Drndić’s fictions. Every dusty record, every banal household object, represents an intricate network of unknown relations capable of arousing melancholy or horror. The inadequacy of memory is perhaps her great subject ... the highest distinction of pessimistic fiction is that it undermines its own project. As we do from the desolate, God-baiting novels of Hardy, the gaunt dramas of Beckett, or the post-national horror of late Bolaño, we emerge from Drndić’s writing feeling both vanquished and invigorated. Such formidable intelligence and Homeric intention cannot help but thrill and exalt.
PositiveThe Paris ReviewPajak’s Manifesto blends personal memory with history, biography, memoir, travel writing, and aphoristic fiction. The resultant narrative register—spectral, echoic, image rich, materially preoccupied—suggests the improbably varied source material of the self ... This is to be desired in art: that it outpace the terms of its own interpretation. Pajak is attuned to this ambiguity, an opaque quality that lends the drift of his pages a satisfying blur, like landscapes seen from a train ... His topics are unstable, often decaying rapidly, as if lingering too long on one might cause the truth of another to expire ... When writing about himself, Pajak is far cagier, even elusive.The scattered images, scenes, and unattributed quotes, the digressive strangeness, the bits of biography and fiction: they are the individual shards that once constituted a mirror, Pajak’s own.
Maria Gainza, trans. by Thomas Bunstead
RaveThe NationHere, art is a trellis around which life knots and overlaps, severs, climbs upward. Like Faye, the novelist at the center of Rachel Cusk’s celebrated Outline trilogy, the narrator of Optic Nerve is appealingly reticent. We are supplied with the contour of a character and little else ... elegantly translated ... while often obliquely gorgeous, is not without its missteps. There are incursions into the second person that squander the immediacy Gainza has gathered with the lyrical authority of María’s voice. The novel is also dappled with quotes from writers...While these are often very good, they are sometimes clustered with a hoarder’s avidity ... Optic Nerve’s episodic iridescence—the way each chapter shimmers with the delicacy of a soap bubble—belies its gravity. Gainza has written an intricate, obsessive, recherché novel about the chasm that opens up between what we see and what we understand ... a radiant debut.
Roberto Bolano, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveThe Paris ReviewFor the Bolaño devotee, reading The Spirit of Science Fiction is a little like glimpsing the graceful form hiding within the block of marble. The book’s loose, associative style, wounded idealism, and tender carnality anticipate many of his later novelistic preoccupations. The book’s very premise—two young poets drift around the literary underworld of Mexico City—reads like a dress rehearsal for The Savage Detectives, similarly soaked in poetry, disillusion, and longing. The novel is dappled with recognizably Bolañan pleasures, though they are mostly incidental. What The Spirit of Science Fiction offers most is the tingle of the nascent. It allows us to perceive the avalanche in the snowball before it rolls downhill ... In The Spirit of Science Fiction he is already...testing the narrative pliability of poetic delirium and oracular grimness ... The Spirit of Science Fiction functions as a kind of key to the jeweled box of Bolaño’s fictions, an index of the images that would come to obsess him. While new readers may wish to start with the famous works on which his legacy rests, longtime Bolaño fans will doubtless enjoy this familiar cocktail of sorrow and ecstasy.
Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner
RaveThe Paris Review... a gem of the form ... amounts to something like an intellectual love affair, replete with moments of courtship, seduction, devotion, and, eventually, betrayal. Given the polymathic depth of the correspondents, their associative flair and plasticity, and the sheer duration of their passionate exchange—nearly five decades, all told—we are unlikely to find a document of its like again ... The collection is wonderfully, exhaustively annotated throughout by editor Edward Burns ... often reads like the almanac of a brilliant and eccentric family. Beneath the heat of their native curiosity, even the most arcane subjects achieve a sudden, flaring warmth ... not merely a rich modernist inventory (even if, for some readers, this will happily be its main appeal). There are also instances of unlikely literary adventure and intrigue.
Uwe Johnson, Trans. by Damion Searls
PositiveThe AtlanticUwe Johnson’s Anniversaries, a sprawling novel about an East German émigré and her 10-year-old daughter as they navigate life on New York’s Upper West Side, is a natural heir to this tradition, if an unruly one. Johnson pairs the book’s late-modern élan—its complexity of structure, its synchronicities and leaps in time—with an uncommon commitment to the simplicity and moral necessity of facts, \'the mirror of daily events.\' Its unlikely hero, and sometime stand-in narrator, is The New York Times, which Gesine, an admiring if astringent reader, calls \'our tried and true supplier of reality.\' ... In a nearly 1,800-page novel of vaulting formal ambition, one does not expect its most radical feature to be this simple acknowledgment of reality: \'We do not live by bread alone,\' Gesine advises her daughter, \'we need hard facts too, child.\'
RaveThe Los Angeles Times\"These crystalline and exquisitely elliptical works have helped define the genre of autofiction, self-referential novels in which protagonist and author blur and merge ... Although some readers may bristle at Faye’s narrative reticence—she comes at us obliquely, bent by the gravity of others’ voices—hers is a cruelly clear-sighted descriptive prowess capable of stripping her subjects bare. Like a pane of protective glass, the stark transparency of her prose contains—if only just barely—a beautiful and deadly animal ... That sense of the hazards of contemporaneity—anomie, technological apprehension, the anxiety of travel—is one of the great mimetic feats of Kudos. Cusk shares something of Don DeLillo’s ambient dread, though she sands the edges of her paranoia until they are smooth and contoured. Still, there is an undertow of nervy disquiet.\
RaveThe Paris ReviewDean’s centering, or recentering, is both deeply researched and uncommonly engrossing. Indeed, Sharp’s pacing and wealth of anecdote compel one to consume the book like a novel. Many of the book’s satisfactions arise from the depictions of the incestuous, fiercely competitive beau monde these women inhabited ... particularly astute in its complex portrayal of female intellectual solidarity, friendship, and dissent ... that each woman would argue against her inclusion becomes, by the book’s end, Sharp’s primary animating force. Dean’s feat of intellectual wrangling is as impressive for what it holds together—the exquisite, creaking.
Alfred Döblin, Trans. by Michael Hofmann
RaveThe Paris ReviewThe scandalous, almost futurist velocity of Berlin Alexanderplatz undoubtedly contributes to its appeal. But while the book is funny, shockingly violent, absurd, strangely tender and memorably peopled, its lasting resonance lies not in its hulking antihero or picaresque narrative beats but rather in its collage-like depiction of the city ... Luckily for readers, new and returning, Hofmann’s rhythmically pliable language renders a Berlin no less operatic for all its sordidness ... For the contemporary reader, alert to the churning of Trump-stoked resentment and the rising of the far right worldwide, Berlin Alexanderplatz may prove a kind of cracked mirror. Döblin acts as both poet and prophet, though one wishes him only the well-deserved stature of the former.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe resulting novel, Spy of the First Person, is an eloquent, if necessarily brief, valediction. At just 96 pages, its effect is one of atmosphere rather than narrative, an aching requiem sung in the shadow of extinction. It is also partly autobiographical. Like Shepard, the narrator is an old man dying of a debilitating illness. His flickering consciousness ranges over great temporal distance, blending present-day observations with fragments from a disintegrating past ... The short dispatches that serve as chapters leap between these two voices, at times attaining an almost Beckettian quality, the lean poetry of utterance as it scrapes against the void ...gaunt lyricism conjures an album of bleached images in which the life of a man and the changing face of a country are cataloged with both love and bafflement ... The telescoping nature of collapse — from the frailness of the physical body to the tragedy of the national soul — lends these pages a loss that is both painfully intimate and disconsolately vast.
Mathias Enard, Trans. by Charlotte Mandell
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books\"Compass, a brilliant, elusive, outré love letter to Middle Eastern art and culture, is also a spirited challenge to Said’s masterpiece, which can be felt thrumming beneath the text as an animating anxiety ... The resulting intellectual torrent, vividly translated by Charlotte Mandell, purportedly comprises Ritter’s unwritten \'revolutionary thesis\' and reads as equal parts confession, travelogue, and dreamscape ... It is also a powerful vision of the West as unsuspecting cultural mongrel. One of the great joys of the book is to follow Ritter down the rabbit hole of artistic cross-pollination between Orient and Occident ... While there seems to be a reflex to lionize Compass as \'more important than ever,\' presumably due to the divisiveness of our current moment, I find myself resistant to this take. It diminishes an extraordinary achievement with the burden of a vague and unconvincing humanism. The brilliance of Énard’s novel — the best we’re likely to receive this year — rests on something more fragile and more ambiguous. Culture is permeable, it proclaims — and just as likely to absorb the bad as the good. We ought to celebrate this coalescence, but we are also morally obliged to take its inventory.\
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesFor this reader, though, the book’s pleasures come not from the 400-page, low-and-slow smolder of its central relationship, which can at times feel like nothing more than two repressions circling one another; rather, it is Selin herself. Acutely self-conscious but fiercely intelligent, she consistently renders a strange, mordantly funny and precisely observed world ... While there are memorable scenes — a semi-grotesque child pageant Selin is asked to judge, a bucolic canoe ride with Ivan — the pacing flags [in the second half]. I missed the spark and crackle of campus life, Selin’s surgical deflating of puffed-up professors, the ice-shagged streets of Boston ... Still, Selin’s is a consciousness one does not want to part with; by the end of the book, I felt as if I were in the presence of a strange, slightly detached, utterly brilliant friend.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesIf it is emphatically a novel for adults — a deceptively radiant howl of pain — the froth and sparkle of its prose bear the stamp of wonder one recalls from Roald Dahl, from Lewis Carroll, from Shel Silverstein ... Stub and Asthma’s world positively crackles with imaginative élan, even as the dark and unknowable shapes of adulthood fly above them ... Ducornet’s language can veer a little too sharply into the precious and the novel’s climax feels both abrupt and curiously weightless. Still, her ability to navigate that twilight land between youthful fantasy and world-weary adulthood is, alone, worth the cost of admission.
Yuri Herrera, trans. Lisa Dillman
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times\"Herrera’s gift for evoking the grit and gleam of the city’s various locales — from nouveau riche estates to gigolo clubs — creates a smoky, sexy, ominous backdrop for our hero’s myriad encounters ... Herrera’s prose, deftly translated by Lisa Dillman, is lean and hard-boiled — and often caustically poetic — though underpinned by a sort of wry self-awareness. If Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are present here, so too are Roberto Bolaño and Quentin Tarantino ... This skillfully skewed mimicry turns out to be a blessing and a curse.\