RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)A great short story says more than a novel; the genius of the finest short stories lies in what is left unsaid. The feel for the form of the Wicklow-born writer Claire Keegan is as unwavering as if she had first begun to sing opera in the mountains without ever having a music lesson. Her subversive stories are written with the sureness of touch possessed by only the most natural of musicians. The influences of her masters, William Trevor, John McGahern and, most intriguingly, Michael McLaverty, are evident, yet her stately, rhythmic prose, and its physicality, detached tone and assurance, are all her own ... a haunting, crafted narrative making superb use of the first-person voice and of an urgent present tense. It has beauty, harshness, menace and the spine of steel worthy of high art. In a tribute to its singularity it is being published solo, in Keegan\'s revised, expanded version, by the British publisher Faber next month. This is rarely done ... Keegan evokes the sense of place in a countryside parched by hot sun as precisely as she conveys the bitterness of the inhabitants ... Where does the Irish short story stand in the slipstream of frenetic suburbanisation? How has it been affected by social change? Does McGahern’s influence endure? How important is the sustaining of a tradition? Does emotional power invariably outgun stylistic innovation and experimentation? Exactly how good is Claire Keegan? This wonderful story, as daring today as were the stories of Edna O’Brien on publication, goes a long way towards answering all of those questions.
Per Petterson, Tr. Don Bartlett
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)It is a random, staccato, third person narrative, heavy with descriptions of the seaside and often stilted observations ... Petterson has a beguiling voice and his candid, autobiographical excursions into the personal invariably convince. Family is his theme and he is unafraid of brutal realism ... Echoland, a self-conscious first novel which was published in Norway in 1989, and is now translated, is an apprentice work; cryptic, episodic and laboured. Its interest to his admirers is in revealing Petterson’s development.
Virginie Despentes, Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)One thing is certain, this is no ordinary sequel – the assured cohesion is seamless. Only – reader warning – do read one before two ... Despentes continues her picaresque tour de force with the same driving energy sustained by vicious wit, exasperation, stark insight and compelling empathy ... In her seething Paris of messed-up losers and relentless operators, Despentes exposes a universal society gone mad on greed, fear and ruthlessness. It is terrifying and all too recognisable; the rhythmic fluency is brilliantly evoked by master translator Frank Wynne, who captures each operatic flourish down to the slightest, eloquent beat. It is cinema, theatre and every rock concert you ever attended ... The dialogue soars not only as quick-fire exchanges but as a knowing commentary on present-day society. Despentes misses nothing; her vision possesses an intoxicating righteousness ... Among the several artistic and unexpectedly subtle, quasi-philosophical insights which Despentes consolidates in the second book is his bizarre reinvention. Or to be more accurate, she carefully charts the gradual re-alignment of Vernon ... Amidst sequences of frantic partying as group therapy, there are slow movements allowing for back story and character development, but it is clear that this relative lull before the storm, is preparing for the apocalyptic finale of Vernon Subutex 3 which is heading our way.
Roy Jacobsen, trans. by Don shaw and don bartlett
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)...even by his high standards, his magnificent new novel The Unseen is Jacobsen’s finest to date, as blunt as it is subtle and is easily among the best books I have ever read ... The weather immediately emerges as the major presence and shares its role with the vividly drawn characters ... There is a unique universality about The Unseen. Jacobsen’s prose is beautiful, clean, poised and plain-speaking, but there are interludes of Shakespearean grandeur in the dazzling descriptions of storms. The family seems to accept these vicious tempests as necessary rituals ... Jacobsen’s translators, Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, have surpassed themselves ... Yes, there is a terrific story but it is the writing that will cause most readers to read this book at one sitting ... Ordinary human tragedy frequently intervenes in The Unseen. Life is relentless, as are the seasons. Wisdom and resignation determine much of the action, yet Jacobsen is unafraid of introducing the more lowly elements of social behaviour. There is humour as well as stark, unsentimental pathos .... How to convey the compelling allure of this novel? Jacobsen’s inspired characterisation is well served by the gruff, convincing exchanges, his uncanny feel for the sea and nature in upheaval, and, above all, by his his eloquent awareness of the eerie sensation that a brief moment of silence can create, on an island where sound prevails.
Walter Kempowski, Trans. by Charlotte Collins
RaveThe Financial TimesThe emotional punch of Kempowski’s satirical narrative lurks throughout ... remains fresh, wise, very funny and intuitive ... Kempowski’s laconic, all-knowing voice, so brilliantly effective in the masterful All For Nothing (2006) and conveyed flawlessly in the late Anthea Bell’s 2015 translation, is impressively in evidence here in Charlotte Collins’s nuanced, ironic translation — particularly in the dialogue and the sequences concerning the protagonist’s inner thoughts ... Poised and well observed, Marrow and Bone is remarkable, a very human narrative featuring a likeable Everyman. For all the robust humour, there are moments of dazzling clarity capable of turning the heartiest laugh into a sudden gasp of empathy.
PanThe Irish TimesTom McCarthy’s third novel is a slap-happy, unoriginal historical yarn teetering between the late 19th century and the early 20th and appears determined to be anti-conventional while being just that. It opens many boxes and then slams them shut ... The characters are one-dimensional. Although Carrefax snr, a panto-type loudmouth with a fondness for pagents and shouting \'splendid\', could be based on John Cleese in overdrive, the hero, Serge, is both cartoon figure and lost soul ... It is as if McCarthy has no interest in character and tolerates characterisation as a means of demonstrating his talent for mildly amusing dialogue, often based on misunderstandings from comments being misheard – rather too obvious a device in a narrative featuring deafness and emerging communication ... McCarthy works hard at keeping everything slightly off centre, even the humour, which may explain why this novel is not quite as funny as its author may have suspected ... this knowing, laboured and oddly hasty narrative, expected to make next week’s Man Booker shortlist, never adds up to the sum of its many musings.
Kamel Daoud, trans. by John Cullen
RaveThe Irish TimesDespite being almost satirically stylised, The Meursault Investigation, which won the Prix Goncourt in May for best first novel, is an impressive, provocative undertaking that says as much about postcolonial Algeria as it does about another writer’s motivations ... For all the detachment, a festering anger slowly seeps out, as does a controlled grasp of the absurdity of it all. This is a narrative that might not prove easy to put down, should one be intrigued enough to take it up. It is worth the gamble, because the polemic is balanced by artistic ingenuity ... The bitterness is effectively conveyed by John Cullen’s astute translation, which ensures that the direct tone is not lost. The language is plain, with few concessions to lyrical indulgence. Yet a poet’s soul lurks beneath Harun’s pain ... A relentlessly adroit blend of fire and clinical precision ensures that Kamel Daoud’s iconoclastic deliberation is about far more than a renowned novel by Albert Camus.
Virginie Despentes Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Welcome to 21st-century France, it could as easily be anywhere but the outrageously gifted film-maker and writer extraordinaire, Virginie Despentes, has set her epic social satire in Paris, specifically in the chaotic shark pool inhabited by screen writers, social media groupies, porn stars, failed musicians, random misfits and a controversial dead icon ... brilliantly deadpan ... The stage is set for what will prove one of the books of the year, if not the decade, and as it is the first volume of a trilogy and already has a cult following on France, the best advice is, simply, to read it and pass on the word ... No review could do it justice; think the vintage Martin Amis of Money and especially The Information or of Keith Ridgway’s neglected Celtic Tiger caper The Parts and then consider how effectively Despentes relegates Emmanuel Carrere and Michel Houellebecq to appearing almost ordinary by sheer force of her vivid and fluid prose, satirical observations, comic timing, extensive knowledge of ’90s music and, above all, her inspired, at times merciless, at times tender, flair for characterisation ... Frank Wynne, one of the finest literary translators in Spanish as well as French, has not missed either a nuance or a comic beat and effortlessly conveys all the energy, wit, emotional intelligence and pathos of a singular work. The great Balzac would applaud this very human comedy which is a 21st-century nod to the narrative approach of 19th-century writers ... fast-moving and very funny, at times shocking ... For all the frenzy and set pieces, the caustic exchanges and wry asides, Despentes displays impressive control. Her burlesque is all-seeing and disciplined, not tidy, yet always dauntingly cohesive ... Seldom has a novel with so much vicious humour and political intent also included moments of beautifully choreographed, unexpected tragedy. Bold and sophisticated, this thrilling, magnificently audacious picaresque is about France and is also about all of us; how loudly we shout, how badly we hurt. It is the story of now.
RaveThe Irish TimesSouthern Gothic unleashes full fury in this masterful narrative from one of the finest writers at work. Daniel Woodrell, Ozark-born and -based, appears to have absorbed something elemental from the eerie plateau region of the central United States. He understands the essential menace deep within human nature and that the savage tends to stalk art at its most sublime ... To describe Woodrell as a great American writer is a lamentable understatement; this new novel is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy at his finest ... His prose is a thing of hard beauty, simple, rhythmic, at times nuanced with biblical intensity that counters the curt verbal exchanges uttered by characters who are so often beyond caring. Alma still cares. Time has caused her to fester. It is this that sustains a novel that no reader is ever likely to forget ... Angry, tormented characters stalk the pages of this remarkable tale. Woodrell’s majestic gifts create an unforgettable impression of one woman’s life played out against a horrific crime that was never solved but remained to haunt all involved. Yet again Daniel Woodrell has created a wonder of power and barbaric grace.
Daša Drndic, Trans. by S.D. Curtis and Celia Hawkesworth
RaveThe Financial Times...the Croatian visionary Dasa Drndic is only now receiving the recognition she deserves ... Doppelgänger, a boldly virtuosic novella in two parts, mirroring the realities of Croatia and Serbia, sees Drndic delighting in Beckettian high art. Described by her as \'my ugly little book\' it was her personal favourite ... More than any of Drndic’s wonderful collage, archival, semi-autobiographical narratives thus far translated, it is the brief, if immense, Doppelgänger that may surprise even her established readers ... Doppelgänger, a book of the year, will seduce.
Emiliano Monge, Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveThe Guardian...about the weirdest variation of Romeo and Juliet yet to emerge anywhere ... [an] atmospheric and shocking novel ... In an odyssey of relentless human cruelty, Emiliano Monge, one of the many linguistically adroit writers currently at work in what is an exciting era for Mexican fiction, spares no one. That he can succeed in generating any sympathy for his frenetic lovers is entirely due to the ferocious eloquence of his prose, which has been magnificently well served by translator Frank Wynne’s Miltonic register ... Stylistically reminiscent of an earlier Mexican master Juan Rulfo, and with nods to both Chilean maverick Roberto Bolaño, and fellow Mexicans Alvaro Enrique and Yuri Herrera, Monge’s realist, deadly topical fiction is a weighty metaphor for our world gone mad. His characters, however depraved, often reveal traces of empathy, self- doubt, even suppressed horror. Monge balances the dour, apocalyptic brutality of Cormac McCarthy with lively, grim humour...all of which makes the stark truths driving this flamboyant narrative a little easier to swallow.
Daša Drndić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
RaveFinancial Times...eloquently translated ... Wry and kindly, funny, angry, informed and intent on the truth, no voice is quite as blisteringly beautiful as that of Drndic ... E.E.G., referencing a brain scan that reflects the ways in which she excavates memory, offers a vital and concluding chapter to Belladonna.
Walter Kempowski, Trans. by Charlotte Collins
RaveFinancial Times\"Homeland, first published in Germany... in 1992, now out in English for the first time, remains fresh, wise, very funny and intuitive ... Kempowski’s laconic, all-knowing voice, so brilliantly effective in the masterful All For Nothing (2006) and conveyed flawlessly in the late Anthea Bell’s 2015 translation, is impressively in evidence here in Charlotte Collins’s nuanced, ironic translation — particularly in the dialogue and the sequences concerning the protagonist’s inner thoughts ... Poised and well observed, Homeland is remarkable, a very human narrative featuring a likeable Everyman. For all the robust humour, there are moments of dazzling clarity capable of turning the heartiest laugh into a sudden gasp of empathy.\
RaveThe Guardian\"Obioma’s frenetically assured second novel is a spectacular artistic leap forwards ... There is nothing tentative about this new book, a linguistically flamboyant, fast-moving, fatalistic saga of one man’s personal disaster ... Rich in folklore and the daily colour of ordinary life juxtaposed with the spirit world resonating all around it, Obioma’s morality tale triumphs through the character of the kindly Chi, hovering over the action as if wringing his hands ... Few contemporary novels achieve the seductive panache of Obioma’s heightened language, with its mixture of English, Igbo and colourful African-English phrases, and the startling clarity of the dialogue. The story is extreme; yet its theme is a bid for mercy for that most fragile of creatures – a human.\
Gaito Gazdanov, trans. by Bryan Karetnyk
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books\"Of the many elements which make this volume especially appealing to dedicated Gazdanov readers is that all but one of the stories is written — like his suave, cosmopolitan human comedy with a twist, The Flight — in the third person. The use of the omniscient narrator adds an interesting detachment; the distance slows and ... How to define the genius of Gaito Gazdanov, the boy who stared certain death in the eye? He understood how human beings struggle to live in the world while shouldering the burden of their obsessive thoughts, fears, desires, and regrets.\
Eric Vuillard, Trans. by, Mark Polizzotti
MixedFinancial TimesThe Order of the Day is executed with arch style and theatrical swagger, consolidated by self-regarding glee ... Vuillard delights in juxtaposing tiny details with major historical realities ... although based on history, The Order of the Day is not history—it is fact mixed with opinionated bombast ... Vuillard exploits the behind-the-scenes chaos. There are rare moments of pathos ... It is easy to smirk knowingly on reading Vuillard’s cold, clever little turn, and laugh at the horrible real-life personalities, as I did, but also end up feeling queasy, as if having shared in a rather mean, arrogant joke.
Sjón, Trans. by Victoria Cribb
RaveThe GuardianSjón writes with a poet’s ear and a musician’s natural sense of rhythm ... [an] extraordinary performance ... From the opening pages and through much of a chaotic if playfully executed narrative, the influence of Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum is evident. Sjón has mastered the earlier fabulist’s technique of merging history with high-speed comedy and surreal profundity ... His wild, subversive imagination is among his great strengths ... This wayward, exciting odyssey confronts death throughout.
Filip David and Trans. by Christina Pribicevic-Zoric
PositiveLA Review of BooksVeteran Serbian novelist and screenwriter Filip David, who was born in 1940, has shaped a testament to the tragically under-documented plight of the Jews of Yugoslavia during World War II. Composed of anecdotes, news reports, and individual accounts, and woven together with recurrent motifs and diary accounts of his own experiences, The House of Remembering and Forgetting explores the nature of evil. It is a powerful contribution to the literature of the Holocaust.
Although the viewpoints shift along with the time frame, with various speakers testifying as bewildered survivors, and some, now dead, speaking from long ago in the form of letters and messages, the text is well structured and the prose is deceptively simple. It has now been sensitively translated by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, who remains alert throughout to the subtle cadences of trauma and remorse. Indeed, central to the narrative is the guilt of having survived, and mention is made of Primo Levi’s agony ... So many questions, so few answers, and always the haunting sound of a train. Filip David probes our communal bewilderment, as well as the fate of Serbian Jews in particular. A closing interlude, which takes place during a journey on the Orient Express — again, the prevailing image of a train— proves both unsettling and reassuring. Remembering is agony, yet forgetting is impossible, and David, drawing on his own history and that of his country, explains why.
RaveThe Irish Times\"Jenny Uglow, a social historian and biographer of rare empathy, has written a glorious study that not only does full justice to the kindly, vulnerable outsider who pursued a child-like and elusive idea of love; it conveys the sensibility and the heartbreaking mixture of hope and despair that drove him.
Mr Lear is far more than a beautiful book – although it is that. It is an alluring, extremely perceptive doorway into the 19th century ... Poignant and unexpectedly exciting, Mr Lear is a rich delight, while Edward Lear proves endearing and heroic, a man who wanted to love and failed, yet certainly used his gifts well.\
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Jennifer Croft
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books...[a] rich sequence of anecdote, observation, wry aside, personal reflection, extended narrative, and intense speculation about the shape of our world and its future ... Tokarczuk is one of Europe’s most daring and original writers, and this astonishing performance is her glittering, bravura entry in the literature of ideas ... Very early in this wise, observant, and whimsical book, it becomes clear that the reader has found the ideal travel companion ... Flights shifts and shimmers. Its obsessive characters speak in captivating, distinct voices ... an international, mercurial, and always generous book, to be endlessly revisited.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveThe Guardian\"Her new novel resonates with an unexpected simplicity that is profound, unsettling and subtle. The prose, as before astutely translated by Susan Bernofsky, is this time far less incantatory ... The book could easily have become a well-intentioned polemic, but Erpenbeck combines her philosophical intellect with hours of conversations conducted with refugees to tell a very human story about a lonely, emotionally insulated man slowly discovering there is a far wider, urgent world beyond him through his meetings with extraordinary, vividly drawn migrants, each with a story to tell ... Great fiction doesn’t have to be real, but it does have to be true. Erpenbeck’s powerful tale, delivered in a wonderfully plain, candid tone, is both real and true. It will alert readers, make us more aware and, it is to be hoped, more human.\
PositiveThe Financial TimesBelfast-born Bernard MacLaverty’s cinematic fifth novel — his first in 16 years — is muted, exact and intense. It builds on the intuitive genius apparent throughout his work... In Midwinter Break he makes inspired use of this distance when exploring the emotional and psychological displacement that undercuts the narrative — and the marriage ... Initially it appears that MacLaverty has created two somewhat unappealing, self-absorbed central characters ... The prose is plain, with the occasional colloquialism or regional shift in syntax. Words are vital; the 'break' of the title refers to a vacation, yet also suggests a rupture or separation ... An artist with a subtle feel for the ordinary, MacLaverty’s wry, outstanding novel about the tests that time, age and life impose on love resonates with humanity and emotional intelligence.