RaveThe Guardian (UK)Everything that makes the novel worthwhile and engaging is here: warmth, wit, intelligence, love, death, high seriousness, low comedy, philosophy, subtle personal relationships and the complex interior life of human beings ... the wonderful (and relieved) feeling I had while reading this novel was that I was in the hands of a seasoned practitioner writing at that peak moment in a career where insight and experience in the form meet insight and experience in life ... Veronesi delivers Carrera’s story by moving backwards and forwards in time: the chapter titles tell us we’re in the 1970s, or in 2018, or 1988-1999 or, at the end, in 2030. Meanwhile, the form itself changes—sometimes we’re reading narrative, sometimes pure dialogue, sometimes letters, poetry, emails, inventories, postcards. The effect is to keep everything fresh and engaging. You remain alert. You sift. You piece the life together like a mosaic. Sure, there may be one or two tiles that you don’t love (a couple of chapters felt levered in, to me—as though Veronesi was trying to find a home for something he had written elsewhere), but these prove to be the exceptions and the overall effect is magnificent—moving, replete, beautiful.
Mario Vargas Llosa trans. by Adrian Nathan West
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)This is the kind of novel that mocks the give-it-10-pages, I-need-to-be-grabbed-because-life-is-too-short school of reading. Even those of the trust-the-artist, persevere-and-stand-fast persuasion should prepare to be tested. I confess: I was confused, bewildered, lost. I wrote down the names of the characters. I backtracked. I cross-tracked. I re-tracked. The shape of the narrative only really began to declare itself around page 90. But then … oh, what an engaging education Harsh Times turned out to be, and how I came to look forward to my time in its company ... I should not have doubted a master ... A substantial part of Vargas Llosa’s gift has always been to illuminate the interior lives of characters regardless of their moral position – something only the greatest writers can do. Everyone in this book is mired in consequential life-and-death decisions ... On the second reading, when you know who is who, Harsh Times really comes into its own and, indeed, starts to make artistic sense. The chopping and the changing are designed to make you feel the disorientation, the claustrophobia, the paranoia of the 1950s. Sure, this novel isn’t Vargas Llosa’s finest (although I can’t think of many rival eightysomething authors who could do better). But it is replete with his deep human sensibility; it swarms with life and a determination to tunnel down into the underlying truth of humanity. Power. Politics. Credos and dogma. Senseless, casual death. Hopeless, casual love. The perpetual cruelty that greed recycles. The intergenerational legacy of stupidity. The way humans continually end up running things to their own detriment. Our own detriment.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)A Lonely Man never asks us to choose which lonely man is the loneliest, but clearly this is a book about masculine solipsism, and astute readers will already have gleaned that we have three candidates for the eponymous role. There’s also an interesting fourth ... There is some fine descriptive writing in Power’s novel ... there can be no doubt about it: Power (if not Prowe) has all the talent and skill he needs to write something great. But somehow this novel felt inhibited to me. There was a little too much hesitancy, circumspection, a debilitating self-consciousness. Sure, that’s partly the point; but the meta-meaning cannot be a justification for losing focus in the actual text ... More than once, I found myself urging Power to deploy his talent and just commit to one thing or another ... The Russian story felt occluded, stalled. Again, if that’s the point, it’s not a good enough point to detain so good a writer ... That said, the last scene of this book is superb, not least because the logic of Power’s plot has required a decision to be made to which he has to commit. My advice: buy the short stories and then buy this book and read them back-to-back.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)This is a book about the absurd business of film-making, the desperate business of writing a novel and the ludicrous business of acting – and it’s superbly wry and wise and funny and truthful on all three subjects ... But, beneath that, it’s really a novel about the correspondences between the inner and the outer lives of human beings: a novel, in other words, about identity ... Boyd is a highly accomplished writer and Trio is a masterclass in artistic technique. He introduces his characters impressively quickly and with deft ingenuity: a brief paragraph and they’re real, rich and visible to the reader ... The balance of plot movement and interiority is also perfectly calibrated – action and ideas, drama and sensibility, stuff happening and people thinking. The reader is neither bored nor taken for an idiot ... And yet, what was missing was madness, rage, despair, something existentially incandescent – whatever Boyd’s version of that might be. If you’re lucky enough to have a late period, you might as well burn.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)In the opening pages, I found Kunzru’s narrator’s tone too often to be one of shiftless complaint ... Kunzru deploys a knowing lugubriousness to offset the privilege, but even the undeniably deft prophylactics of self-awareness cannot quite distract from a sense of wallow. Bit by bit though, I was enlisted. For one thing, Kunzru’s intelligence is an irresistible pleasure ... The second section...is thoroughly absorbing—if, on first read, a little perpendicular to the whole ... By the third section— \'Apocalpyse\'—I was loving it ... Kunzru’s rigorous, inventive and precise turns of phrase are now deployed not to carp but to whet ... By the end, Red Pill had become the most thought-provoking novel I had read in ages, not because I had not read these existential conclusions before—what other conclusions are there?—but because Kunzru’s own iteration was so well earned. From German Romanticism to Trump via the Stasi and the Nazis … a line newly drawn; this is a timely, interesting and resonantly intelligent novel.
John Jeremiah Sullivan
RaveThe Observer (UK)I began this book reluctantly...but by the end I wanted to hand out copies to all those poor folks I see squirming their way through the squalid prose-dungeons of Fifty Shades. I wanted to launch a new British magazine especially for long-form journalism ... t I...found this collection wonderfully engaging, lucid, intelligent, entertaining, interesting and amusing ... The first pleasure of Pulphead is the subject matter. There is the best essay you will ever read on Michael Jackson and the only essay you\'ll ever read on Axl Rose ... The second pleasure is the sophistication. So often the clarity of a writer\'s voice comes at the expense of a subtlety in tone. Not here. The two best pieces of the ensemble – \'Getting Down to What is Really Real\' and \'Upon This Rock\' – are written with such a well-judged balance of close-up love and objective report that they subverted my prejudices entirely and left me admiring Sullivan\'s way of admiring ... Sullivan had guided me through these alien worlds in a way that revealed to me their interesting geometries and their raisons d\'être. What more can the writer do? ... But the greatest pleasure of all was the writing itself ... Sullivan\'s love of language, his skill and inventiveness, reminded me afresh of the delight of reading people who can actually write.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)I was always going to like this novel ... It is about Russia and Russian-ness and America and American-ness, about the relationship between the generations, history, atonement, fact, fiction, biography, literature and the process of writing ... Literary allusions (and illusions, and even delusions) are everywhere laced into the novel’s seams: Fishman shares the serious writer’s savouring of word selection and imagery ... My one criticism is that the first chapter is the weakest ... The inventions of the stories are this story’s great invention but you have to wait a while for them to charge the book with thematic originality. Overall, Fishman is at his best – as are so many Russian-descendent writers – in the disputed territory between truth and lies.
MixedThe GuardianThere are several narratives (I wondered if Englander had started with a collection of short stories and then used the multi-identity device that his theme of espionage affords to bind them) … Englander runs the risk of making the whole feel a little too slivered: most readers like to settle with characters, and would, in any case, surely claim decent attention spans by happy virtue of their reading at all. There’s also something deep in the tectonics of storytelling that grinds loudly in protest whenever a novelist genre-shifts from section to section … More concerning to me – and what stops the book reaching greatness – was the plot … Now I’m sounding as if I didn’t like the novel. But I really did. There were passages of great humanity and wisdom.
PositiveThe GuardianRedeployment is the real thing – a vivid and vital battery of war stories that does not rely solely on its subject matter for impact (although, make no mistake, the subject certainly has impact) … Klay's gifts become more apparent with each new narrator and circumstance: his reach, his tonal control, his observational sophistication, the sheer emotional torque of his narratives. By the end, he had convincingly inhabited more than a dozen different voices and I felt I had learned more about Iraq than in any documentary or factual account … The thing that impressed me most, though, was Klay's behind-the-scenes skill with language. For the most part, the stories are planed and worked in that meticulous American manner.
RaveThe Guardian...this collection is of the highest standard among younger British authors that I’ve come across ... let me urge you to read him since, on this evidence, he is one of those rare writers with skill in all the disciplines that first-rate fiction requires ... these nine stories about very different men are replete with richly observed humanity, caught on the page as if in the midst of lives that extend backwards and forwards beyond the time we spend with them.
RaveThe GuardianThe best thing a reviewer can do when faced with a novel of this calibre and breadth is to urge you to read it for yourselves – especially if your taste is for deeply engaged and engaging contemporary American prose fiction of real quality and verve ... Many chapters feel like separate novel fragments that have been skilfully woven together over time and – since Hill’s talents as a writer are so abundant – the resulting 200,000-word leviathan is replete with a great many passages of lush reading pleasure ... The writing is a delight; Hill is an assiduous selector of words whose artistic concentration seldom lapses. He is also a very musical stylist – the book is full of long, beautifully counterweighted sentences and subtle cadences that change from voice to voice as different characters take up the narrative ... For all its mighty accomplishments, though, The Nix suffers from several missteps and a few things that – to my mind at least – don’t quite work. It is overlong to its own detriment. Description reoccurs. There are many sections that the novel could have done without ... There are also several narrative hinges that do not hang right ... And yet, in the final analysis, none of this matters because The Nix outflanks its own weaknesses with such copious strengths and collusive warmth that...well, let me urge you again to read it for yourselves.