RaveNew York Journal of BooksReaders eagerly await more from a writer whose finger is on the pulse of the 21st century. His project is key for our time: reckoning with the tragic colonial history of previous centuries and our own ... a hilarious, terrifying farce. In The Committed , no one escapes satire; the biggest target is colonialism ... The fast-paced action in The Committed puts the narrator-protagonist in constant motion ... Reading this novel induces both delight and displeasure, which are strangely linked. Nguyen performs tours de force in writing about pain, for example in a six-page sentence about a deadly fight ... At first, it is hard to know how to read the book’s tone. Are the footnotes citing French theory serious or satiric? Soon the answer is clear: both. The book is both deadly serious and comic, for the mind of the narrator, as he says repeatedly, is split. In the imperialist lie, colonization is enlightenment ... Nguyen integrates depiction of individual and communal pain with the theory that tries to make sense of them. The book’s most vivid setting is the narrator’s mind, liable to separate into two parts but furnished with memories, feelings, and ideas. Theory becomes the tenuous bridge between the narrator’s selves ... The book features impressive verbal pyrotechnics: puns high and low and witty turns of phrase ... The world seems so absurd to the narrator that his emotions are blunted. He often claims he is dead, and ghosts from the previous book haunt him. The fast pace of the narrative means some characters are briefly sketched; most lack real names, though that is part of the point ... Nguyen continues to lacerate his heart, sensitive to all forms of injustice, by writing as a means of both protest and illumination.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksIn writing a book about a particular area, it helps to be named after a town there. Lamorna Ash revisits Cornwall, the wild area in the southwest of England, which is her mother’s ancestral home, in this accomplished and vividly written first book ... Ash’s gifts of observation illuminate many aspects of the community, from the way people interact in the pub to the geology of the area. She describes life on board a fishing boat with attention both to its ennui and its moments of surprise and strangeness ... The only flaw, though slight, is in the structure of the book. The chapters are linked by the common subject of the Cornwall town and its fishermen, but as a whole the book lacks narrative tension ... Ash’s gift for observation and love of people make this first book memorable.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksReaders of this series will miss Rankin’s usual atmospheric portrayal of Edinburgh, especially since there isn’t much description of the northern landscape. Once Rebus’s old nemesis, Edinburgh crime lord Morris Cafferty, appears, however, the plot tightens as the tentacles of crime link north and south, country and city ... The scenes between Rebus and his daughter ring true with frustrated love and long-time hurt. His young granddaughter is realistically portrayed as a child trying to process and overcome trauma, gripped by storms of emotion but calmed by loving attention ... Rankin portrays the physical weaknesses and tormenting conscience of a man in his sixties sensitively, making this detective story a study of aging as well as morality.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... a page turner ... The plot unfolds at a thrilling pace ... McGuire’s style is riveting. He is a master of concise description, sketching a character in a few brief strokes ... He is a poet of bleakness ... McGuire’s portrayal of Manchester is detailed and haunting...His style is more assured and descriptive, however, when he writes from the point of view of Doyle, the antagonist, than that of the protagonist O’Connor. As a result, evil is more powerfully imagined than goodness in this book. This choice on the author’s part seems deliberate. It robs the book, though, of the full sense of tragedy that might have been attained with a more vivid portrayal of the power of goodness and innocence and the price of their loss. Another weakness is that the women in the book are fleeting presences who correspond to the Madonna-whore stereotype ... Nonetheless, this is a book worth reading for more than the compelling plot. By exploring the use and abuse of power in this historical novel, McGuire provides powerful contemporary resonances. The Abstainer touches on issues still unresolved a century and half after the time of its setting.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksAt a time when the very nature of truth is disputed, the book fittingly mixes memoir and novel ... The first half of the book is particularly compelling ... some conversations in the middle of the book—about hedge funds, about Robert Bork—lack much context and seem like isolated lectures. The speech about astrology given by a romantic interest is tiresome, which is ironic since it is delivered by an educated lawyer ... In such moments, the dramatist Akhtar seems to have left the novelistic realm to provide speeches resembling monologues in a play. That is tied to a larger difficulty. A few sections in the middle of the novel lose the narrative thread to become separate stories connected only by the consciousness of the protagonist/narrator/author ... In the last third of the book, though, Akhtar returns to the subject of his family and sees larger social issues through the lens of the people he knows best. This section includes a beautifully dramatized courtroom scene, complete with stage directions. Thus Akhtar fulfills the ambition of this book: to analyze 21st century American culture while dramatizing the life of a sensitive participant and observer of it ... To find meaning and humanity in confusing times and to convey that understanding to the reader is the ultimate gift a writer can provide.