PositiveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)He isn’t really a minimalist – witness the airport-thriller bulk of The Shards – and the angles in his work aren’t always very sharp. There’s a dazed and confused quality to his prose, a uniform blankness of tone and evenness of detail, such that a strange narcotic fug seems to hang over everything. The same calibre of attention is paid to Bret’s frequent masturbation sessions as to the central building blocks of the plot ... Ellis manages to keep us guessing right up to the lavishly bloody finale, treating us to a variety of cliffhangers and jump scares along the way. He also makes provocative connections between writers and serial killers ... Taken at face value, it’s a pretty daft idea – the two forms of vision assertion and hurt infliction aren’t exactly comparable – but as an exercise in button-pushing, it’s inspired.
PositiveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)Classic Saunders: the comedy wrung out of clunky jargon and wonky syntax, the blend of high and low registers, the revelation of a peculiar world by means of a peculiar voice ... [Some stories] are psychologically deeper and emotionally richer than anything Saunders has previously written. It is also less funny, less strange and less distinctive – more \'classic\'. He is close to having come full circle.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... much more ambitious, and at the same time less streamlined, less structurally airtight, than anything else McEwan has done ... The size of the canvas means that McEwan has to forsake some of his customary narrative energy – there are a few longueurs – but the payoff comes in enhanced complexity and depth.
RaveThe Spectator (UK)A criticism that’s sometimes made of Gunn’s work is that it lacks a central personality — or exhibits only the ‘donned impersonality’ that he observed (in his great poem ‘On the Move’) in the members of motorcycle gangs. The same can’t quite be said about his letters: he’s a marvellously warm and witty correspondent, and we get a strong sense of his temperament, his principles and his enthusiasms and aversions ... But there is an impregnable poise to his epistolary voice, an emotional continence that sometimes verges on chilliness. The closest he comes to displaying any real vulnerability is in his letters to Kitay, whom he showers with tenderness and endearments, and on whose company he clearly depends. But even there, the prevailing tone is more cerebral than emotional ... The suggestion of unfathomable pain lurking behind Gunn’s ‘donned impersonality’ is, as Michael Nott writes in his shrewd introduction to this book, one of the most seductive qualities of his work. But the final impression that these letters make is of a life so skewed towards self-protectiveness that — however varied its experiences and intense its pleasures — it can’t truly be said to have been lived to the full.
MixedThe London Review of Books (UK)Most of them expect you to lean right in to catch their drift. There isn’t a lack of incident, exactly – two attempted suicides, one non-fatal shooting and several sudden deaths occur over the course of the collection – but it all unfolds in a determinedly undramatic way ... You could make the case that Barrett’s first collection was a bit too reliant on shock tactics and moments of climactic violence, but I’m not convinced he needed to go quite so far in the other direction ... It would be churlish to hold Barrett’s discovery of the soft pedal against him: it’s had a salutary effect on his sentences, which have become snappier since Young Skins, less enamoured of fancy vocabulary and self-consciously poetic cadences, and in the right mood he can still deliver blasts of raucous entertainment...a wonderful performance, skilfully balanced between comedy and pathos, and a reminder of how dynamic Barrett can be when he gives his characters permission to cut loose.
MixedTimes Literary Supplement (UK)One of the pleasures of Goon Squad was the small tingle of surprise that came with the realization that a character encountered at one stage of life in an early chapter was the same character, encountered at a different stage of life, in a subsequent one. This is a pleasure that The Candy House provides in spades...so long as you’ve had time to reacquaint yourself with Egan’s back catalogue before you start ... The prevailing mode is a sort of chatty realism, full of comic lifts and emotional plunges. There is no engagement with the philosophical questions and formal opportunities thrown up by Own Your Unconscious...which a straight-up science-fiction novel would have been certain to address ... Egan does the realist thing exceedingly well, and the individual chapters are unfailingly lively and engaging. Even so, there is something strangely cramped about this novel by comparison to Goon Squad. It’s partly that the structure no longer feels so unusual. But it’s also that the canvas has shrunk ... Egan seems anxious to press the disparate episodes into the service of a bigger message. There are increasingly obtrusive homilies about the value of literary fiction, which hardly seems like a sign of self-confidence in a literary novelist ... Having established that books are basically good, she puts them into bat against Own Your Unconscious. You might imagine that the latter’s victories over Alzheimer’s and child pornography would give it something of an advantage in this match up, but you’d be wrong ... So, in a heavily stage-managed contest between fiction and a fictional technology, fiction wins. Hooray! But what if there weren’t any gaps in the Collective Consciousness? Could the literary novel survive in such a world? Frankly, if its response boiled down to a bald assertion of its superiority over the new technology, I’m not sure it would deserve to. If, on the other hand, it tried to interrogate the full consequences off such a huge technological development, and to take seriously the possibilities of future developments – if it looked to science fiction as a model of inquiry, rather than just as a repository of tropes, in other words – there seems no reason why it shouldn’t thrive.
PanThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... the novel’s approach to character: interiority will be brusquely avoided, we understand, and motivation will be treated as purely mechanical. McCarthy doesn’t have much time for plot either. In spite of its thrillerish premiss, The Making of Incarnation is very far from being a page-turner. We are more than a third of the way in before the MacGuffin—the mysterious Box 808—is introduced, and its late arrival is followed not by a sprightly gathering of narrative threads but by a twenty-three-page description of a simulated bobsleigh race ... This sort of thing is typical of this novel’s sentence-by-sentence texture. Its interest is ostensibly in the relations between objects—that is, in material systems—and yet physical detail is often neglected in favour of arid technobabble ... his customary glazed tone often gives way to nerdy info-dumps and animated mini-lectures. These don’t just kill the deadpan mood, they replace it with the precocious pitch and conceptual clatter of an undergraduate philosophical debate.
PositiveLondon Review of Books (UK)As it turns out, few of the characters in Lean Fall Stand are brought to life through dialogue. Even those without brain injuries fluff their lines ... Compared to its predecessors, Lean Fall Stand—written in a conventional close third person—is technically unassuming. There are points when the subject matter calls for something more inventive, however, as in the series of diminishing paragraphs that depict Doc’s stroke: the first runs for six and a half pages, the last consists of a single word ... It’s difficult to know if this is an accurate account of what it feels like to have a stroke, but McGregor has worked to make it seem plausible ... What started out as an adventure story ends up, in classic McGregor fashion, as a portrait of a community. The third act is much quieter than the second, which itself unfolds at a slower pace than the first. Doc settles into the kingdom of the sick and end[s] up less isolated than he was in Antarctica.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)\"This is Franzen with the last dregs of DeLillo—the postmodern bric-a-brac, the satirical frills—filtered out. What remains is strikingly traditional, both in its form (the members of an unhappy family, each attended in turn by a close third- person voice) and its preoccupations (faith, love, generational conflict, what it means to be good) ... All [characters] fashioned from rich psychological fabric, and Franzen reveals their secret lives with insight and compassion ... The competing social systems of Franzen’s early books have been succeeded in Crossroads by competing value systems, rival conceptions of virtue and vice ... Its treatment of Christianity is much more nuanced than the cartoonish version offered in Strong Motion. Faith is neither endorsed nor mocked by this novel, but simply acknowledged as a crucial ingredient in its characters’ perspectives, one that is sometimes a comfort and sometimes an affliction. You don’t have to be a believer to find the psychology persuasive ... Crossroads is largely free from the vices to which Franzen’s previous work has been addicted: the self-conscious topicality; the show-off sophistication; the formal heavy-handedness. It retains many of his familiar virtues: the robust characterization; the escalating comedy; the virtuosic command of narrative rhythm. But it also shares with its two closest predecessors a frictionless style that sometimes feels a bit lacklustre.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)...not everything becomes clear, and for the reader – even more than for the narrator – there are areas of obscurity that seem impossible to penetrate. Ishiguro has made a striking effort to inhabit a non-human consciousness, and the way Klara perceives the world is in various respects entirely alien ... The effect is of a double estrangement – a strange perspective on a strange world – and it is often hard to build an even remotely clear mental picture of what’s supposed to be happening. It doesn’t help that Klara’s observations are delivered with Ishiguro’s usual aversion to precise physical detail ... The novel touches on themes to do with the ethics of AI, the problems of social inequality and the contradictions of parental love, but Ishiguro is much less a novelist of ideas than he is a virtuoso of mood music, and the prevailing tone is one of tenderness and gentle optimism ... Klara and the Sun is a pretty strange piece of work. In its mixture of high-concept sci-fi premiss and intimate human drama, the previous book by Ishiguro that it most obviously resembles is Never Let Me Go ... The new novel is less flamboyant in its flouting of literary norms, but it carries a similar sense of pervasive oddness ... wherever we situate Klara and the Sun in his oeuvre, its final emphasis, the impression it gives of quiet positivity, is radically different from anything else he has written.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)I have to report that the finished product is a considerably weirder proposition than I’d been anticipating. For one thing, Inside Story doesn’t seem entirely sure of what sort of book it is … The result doesn’t feel like a plucky raid on the no man’s land between fiction and non-fiction so much as like several books (a novel, a memoir, a primer on style) glued haphazardly together, with a few additional bits and bobs thrown in … It is like watching a self-indulgent director’s cut of a favourite movie: twice the length of the theatrical version, and half the fun … As for the new material, it is of startingly uneven quality … But that’s enough complaining. Even the best Amis (which this obviously isn’t) can sail close to the rambling and bombastic, and even the worst (which this also isn’t) is stuffed full of classy sentences, catchy riffs and excellent jokes. Among the false fronts and dead-ends of this frequently maddening book bask plenty of lusty pleasures.
RaveThe Times Literary SupplementMantel has reimagined one of the least beloved figures in British history as one of the most extraordinary men of his age, and the age itself as a sort of horse-drawn gangsters’ paradise: a world of extreme brutality, where untold rewards are available to those with the strength and guile to go out and take them. In Mantel’s hands, the story of the Tudors loses all its heavy familiarity and starts to feel like a custom-built vehicle for her muscular prose and savage wit, not to mention her lifelong concern with violence and evil, religion and ghosts ... the page-by-page texture of the writing in The Mirror & the Light is just as rich and interesting as ever, the pacing and the distribution of scenes are just as lively, and the details every bit as funny ... This volume doesn’t perfectly tessellate with its predecessors, and reading the three novels back-to-back is at times a mildly woozying experience ... Hilary Mantel’s prodigious feat is to have given Cromwell another face, one that he might even have recognized as his own; she has cast a dazzling new light onto the tarnished mirror of the past.
MixedLondon Review of Books (UK)His fiction deals in exquisite perceptions and equivocal moods, and is constantly alert to emotional nuance ... One result of all these second thoughts is that we gain a much fuller understanding of the person thinking them. Greenwell’s sex scenes are remarkable in capturing what’s at stake for his narrator beyond an obvious physical pay-off ... But this psychological realism, along with the fussiness of expression...and insistence on clarity of detail...means that the porno set-ups lack porno swagger ... The tone is that of someone contending with matters of enormous moral heft. In What Belongs to You, the earnestness suited the somewhat harrowing plot, but here, when the subject matter is more varied, it starts to feel like a limitation, a prose style that paints happiness and heartache in the same shade of blue. The issue is one of sensibility: Greenwell is squeamish about joining in with his characters’ fun. When he praises Hollinghurst or O’Hara, it’s telling he doesn’t mention their humour. Comedy has no place in his credo about art.
RaveThe Times (UK)Extraordinary ... Power has an intelligent and confidently idiosyncratic approach to the form. His tone is generally affectless, but modulated with dry humour, and his images are sharply drawn and often haunting. There is an obsessive quality to the best of these stories that makes them feel pregnant with inscrutable meaning. Many of them, even those that deal exclusively with adult characters, have the bittersweet mood, the uncanny logic and the peculiar sheen of childhood memory ... when I reached the end, I was close to tears and felt compelled to reread the first two stories in the sequence, the better to appreciate how Eva’s life came so dramatically off the rails. It is testament to the depth and distinctiveness of Power’s characters that it seems so important to try to understand them, even as they fail to understand themselves.
Jean Moorcroft Wilson
MixedThe Guardian (UK)This sober biography includes convincing readings of his poetry, but it takes Graves’s charismatic lover to set the narrative alight ... Her treatment of Graves’s prose is rather less convincing than her readings of his poetry ... Moorcroft Wilson gives an excellent account of the folie à deux that led to the collapse of most of Graves’s friendships, and eventually to Riding hurling herself out of a fourth-floor window, followed by Graves from a window one floor down. The trouble is that by placing this combination of sex and violence at the end of her book, where it inevitably feels like the climax of Graves’s story, Moorcroft Wilson scuppers her stated objective of shifting \'the emphasis back to … the first world war\'.
MixedLondon Review of BooksPerry’s characters have...become blessedly nastier ... Black magic, diabolical curses, ghoulish apparitions: these phenomena aren’t often found in books that have something to say about real-life atrocities. And Perry has ... The contrasting voices in the Melmoth dossier allow Perry to exercise her talent ... But the writing becomes increasingly uniform, and every time Melmoth appears it takes a turn for the worse ... It’s hard to know what to make of a novel in which denying the resurrection of Christ and condemning a Jewish family to Theresienstadt can result in the same fate. But Perry’s moral project isn’t limited to doling out punishments for her wicked characters ... it’s not just witnessing but bearing witness—in other words, providing testimony—that the novel asks us to see as virtuous. There’s a type of writing which does exactly that, and it isn’t Gothic horror. It seems that this extravagantly fantastical book, full of manufactured mysteries and supernatural shocks, wants to be read as a vindication of the rights of journalism.
MixedThe Times...the rarest of literary beasts: a work with proper avant-garde credentials whose warmest reception might well be among gossip columnists ... Having introduced her characters so vividly, Halliday does little to develop them, and keeps hitting the same few beats. Most frustratingly, we get only occasional glimpses of Alice’s inner life ... Asymmetry is a clever and provocative mix of the kind of writing that gets read as autobiographical, and the kind that doesn’t. But it’s a bit of a lopsided read.
PanThe Financial TimesEggers is an engaging storyteller, with a sure sense of character (Paul and Ana are especially lively creations, entirely credible as children and touchingly confident in their mother) and a keen eye for the bizarre ... He displays a lack of confidence about holding his readers’ attention, and employs a range of cheap devices. He often proceeds by presenting information misleadingly ... You soon start to wonder if Eggers knows where he’s going with all this: he often seems as lost as Josie is, and like her, he’s doing whatever it takes just to stay on the move.