PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)Shteyngart has, from the outset of his career, been an hilariously astute and often prescient observer and satirist of his adopted country; this enjoyable novel is no exception. In Our Country Friends, however, there is a more measured quality to Shteyngart’s writing: he has left behind the sometimes madcap forms of earlier novels including Absurdistan (2006) and Super Sad True Love Story (2010) for an omniscient narrative style that suits the eerie, quiescent nature of his tale ... What Shteyngart has made is a comedy of manners that is always a pleasure to read even if it feels, at times, a little strained. But of course it’s strained, one might argue, we’re all strained, everything is strained ... There are some flaws here: the reader never really gets a handle on how Tröö Emotions works or what it really does; I was not quite convinced by the emotional dynamic (no spoilers here) behind the story of Vinod’s rediscovered, unpublished book. But this is a warm, empathetic novel, written with a tenderness and close observation of this enclosed society that pulls the reader into the novel’s present and allows her to forget for a little while — as Shteyngart’s cast is attempting to do — the catastrophe unfolding in the world beyond.
PanThe Financial Times (UK)Ferris is a sharp, observant writer with a gift for worrying at the ills that afflict a certain stripe of contemporary American life ... this is a relentlessly self-reflective book; but the shifting flow of storytelling draws attention to its own games in what becomes, finally, a wearying and predictable way. If you had missed the point that Charlie Barnes is an Updikean figure, not to worry: you’ll be told ... There is a curious heartlessness here. It is like a novel written from the perspective of a drone, all scope and no detail. There is no character in this novel who seems to live or breathe: the author has a get-out clause for that...But we are told that Jake’s book is unfinished, so that’s fine. If you are unsatisfied by what you are reading, the joke’s on you ... Charlie can’t surprise us or move us because, simply put, he never gains the sense of agency that is the novelist’s true gift; he acts at the whim of his creator, no more. For a satire, it’s surprising that Ferris missed an opportunity to test Charlie in a manner that would have been revealing. This is not a realist novel, but Charlie’s cancer treatment must surely have been awfully expensive, especially for someone so close to broke. We don’t hear anything about that; there would have been rich material there ... A critic can’t ask that a novelist write a wholly different book; yet the lack of any mention of the cost of healthcare in 21st-century America seems peculiar. A Calling for Charlie Barnes never quite rises to its ambitions; it feels more like a game than a matter of life and death.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The early sections of the novel, set in 2014, are wincingly hilarious ... Shipstead deftly interweaves Marian and Hadley’s lives and draws striking parallels between their experiences, despite the time and circumstances separating them ... The plot of Great Circle is intricate and rich, humming like the Merlin engine of the Spitfire Marian will eventually fly. It is rare to read a novel that is as beautifully built as it is elegantly written ... peopled by vivid, memorable characters whose fates intersect in ways both inevitable and shocking; whose deaths, when they come, have the blunt, heartbreaking force of truth.
RaveNew Statesman (UK)I’ve lived in Britain for more than 35 years and in London for a quarter century. But New York is my hometown ... Craig Taylor’s new [book] reconjured the city for me ... Taylor is Canadian, an outsider: his love of New York is plain, his ability to listen extraordinary ... Some interviews are concerned with the purely personal, while others offer a brutally vivid portrait of momentous events ... splendid ... Everyone and no one belongs to New York.
MixedThe New StatesmanI felt more than a twinge of sympathy for Roth at this point, having scribbled \'Oy\' a great many times myself in the margins of Bailey’s book, which has been feted on both sides of the Atlantic. Like Roth, I was tempted to quit, but there are no quitters in the pages of the New Statesman and so, dear reader, I gamely carried on despite my boredom and dismay ... he reader sees, in Bailey’s treatment of much of the criticism that came Roth’s way, one of the problems of this book: the near-complete alignment of Bailey and his subject. The question I kept asking myself as I read on and on was: where does Roth end and Bailey begin? ... Roth was a writer, and he spent his days writing. There is only so much mileage to be got out of a man sitting at his desk for hour upon hour ... what is most disturbing in this book is not Roth’s behaviour but his biographer’s apparently unthinking alignment with it ... A biographer should not be expected to condemn his or her subject. But some of these descriptions shouldn’t have made it past an editor’s desk. Bailey rightly remarks on Roth’s determination to \'let the repellent in\' to his writing; that is often what gives his work its force. But too often in Bailey’s book one feels it is let in where it doesn’t really belong.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)\"From the outset Robinson reveals her subtle mastery of both character and language ... Striking too to read this novel in 2020, during a global pandemic and the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement: Robinson’s timeless prose, her Romeo and Juliet story, have an eerily timely ring. Jack and Della advance towards their love and retreat from it at the same time: the narrative pull of the book is in entering their troubled dance. Jack fits beautifully into the subtle weave of Robinson’s Gilead books;
that said, it could perfectly well be read on its own ... Her clear, fluid language is laced with the work of writers who have come before, with references to Shakespeare and Frost and Whitman ... Robinson reminds us that the world is ours to make. \
MixedThe New Statesman (UK)It feels, however, as if Nicholls is playing it safe. There’s nothing exactly wrong with this novel, and Nicholls has such a fluid style you can’t object to spending time in the company of his characters. But the book never achieves lift-off: there isn’t enough at stake ... Charlie and Fran, alas, never rise above the commonplace. Charlie’s a nice enough kid; Fran is pretty much a blank canvas. She’s clever, and she seems to draw cleverness out of Charlie, but in a way that often feels too much like an out-take of When Harry Met Sally than the way two British teenagers might actually talk ... Sure, bad stuff happens, but not enough of it to heighten the book’s tension ... In the end, Sweet Sorrow offers consolation of a peculiarly anodyne kind. But the consolation of art must be bolder and more brutal. Hardy knew it; Shakespeare knew it; and Nicholls knows it too. Perhaps we’ll find it in his next novel, but it can’t be found here.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The experience of reading Sisters is a kind of dance of the seven veils as the family’s past, and the tragedy that is the book’s true narrative engine, are revealed in fragmentary, frightening glimpses ... Johnson is adept at giving the sisters’ mythic closeness a 21st-century twist ... The book is shot through with horror, keeping the tension at a fever pitch even in moments of quiet ... It’s a tour-de-force of attraction and repulsion, of intimate disgust ... Johnson’s prose seduces us with the promise of comfort and then yanks that comfort away.
Tara June Winch
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... moving ... Laced into this rich catalogue of words, each one offering a glimpse of a civilisation that the colonisers of the land worked so hard to eradicate, are two other narratives ... This is a novel full of the spaces in between. Much of the brutality is revealed glancingly ... has all the more power to shock because Winch has built her novel with subtlety and strength. This is a complex, satisfying book, both story and testimony. The Yield works to reclaim a history that never should have been lost in the first place.
MixedThe Financial TimesAs Love begins, the reader is dropped into the familiar, perfect rhythm of Roddy Doyle’s effortless dialogue: it’s as if we’re sitting at a table alongside these two and can simply start to listen ... The novel is in itself a praise-song to the Irish pub ... Laced into the good humour and camaraderie is an examination of mid-to-late life, as both men measure themselves against their younger selves and against each other. In Doyle’s characteristic sidelong fashion, they consider the world they find themselves in, the decisions they’ve made about their lives ... That end veers towards the sentimental: there is a sense of unearned emotion that draws attention towards the novelist’s construction and away from genuine feeling ... It’s difficult to avoid the sense that Doyle is treading on ground that has become too familiar ... Not much about Love feels new. Doyle’s women — usually so well rounded — feel hastily sketched here. Davy’s Faye is something of a caricature of a lively, mouthy Irish lass. Joe and Davy’s dilemmas and sorrows are not distinctive enough. It’s no trouble to keep listening to their talk, to follow them around on their long Dublin night, but the reader might, in the end, find herself keeping an eye out for more interesting company.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)... thoughtfulness is too often absent. Characters in stories are entitled to their perceptions of the world and those they observe. But the stories in this book come across as stale because, more often than not, the people in them seem imprisoned by a judgmental authorial voice. Most of these narratives concern the tribulations of middle-aged, middle-class men who find that life hasn’t quite worked out as they’d planned ... In earlier books Ford has painted these kinds of lives with wisdom and sensitivity; here, the characters’ resistance to emotional depth leaks out into the narrative. Henry’s friend Niall in \'Displaced\' is...caricature rather than character. What’s intriguing in \'Second Language\' is the way in which both Jonathan and Charlotte seem, to a certain extent, to elude their author: that’s what gives them a life beyond the page. The final tale here is the one that’s worth waiting for.
MixedFinancial TimesThis is a less satisfying novel than its predecessor; it does not quite stand on its own. Its tricky plot lacks flow and sometimes feels over-engineered; when Winona falls for a wild and beautiful girl named Peg, their romance has the air of a decision made by the author rather than something organic and true ... The opening of the novel is a signal that Barry understands full well the challenges inherent in his decision to tell Winona’s story. This is a subtle, troubling novel, full of silences, full of pain ... Barry knows that it is too much to look for redemption in a story like Winona’s, but in his telling he shows that love offers at least a spark of hope.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)This remarkable, complex novel demonstrates what has become a tenet of its author’s work: \'One story becoming another,\' as he writes ... McCann is adept at transforming history into fiction in a way that brings the reader to view that history anew; he is a writer who forges connections that would otherwise go unseen ...
With Apeirogon, this bold novelist enters fraught political territory with courage and imagination. There is no simple way to approach this kind of material, and so McCann takes the novel form and cracks it open: the book is composed of 1,000 chapters, some only a single line long. They are numbered up to 500 before heading back down to one again — recognition that stories such as those of Elhanan and Aramin can have no linear trajectory. Yet McCann ensures that as the novel expands and folds back in on itself, the reader never feels lost: one of the book’s feats is the way that clarity of exposition is combined with formal experimentation ... Apeirogon: a shape with a countably infinite number of sides ... It’s a clumsy title for a novel, one might argue, a title requiring explanation. Still, this remarkable book rises to embody the geometric form, folding an uncountable number of stories within itself, the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, stretching back into the past and off into the future. It is a daring, humane achievement.
RaveNew Statesman...masterful ... No single piece could capture the essence of this extraordinary writer, but a new reader might wish to start here ... These essays illuminate Davis’s patterns and choices, though her gaze is not only turned upon her own technique ... Throughout this volume, the reader is grateful for Davis’s precision and attention ... Like all of Davis’s work, these rich essays address how we build up a coherent picture of the world ... Read these essays: see everything around you in a clear, fresh light.
RaveThe New Statesman (UK)Pullman is a staggeringly gifted storyteller, and in The Secret Commonwealth his talents are on full display ... The novel gallops forward, full of danger, delight and surprise. Nearly miraculous, it seems, is Pullman’s ability to sketch character, place and motive in just a few lines; he has a rare ability to make us care about his creations, however far-fetched they may seem. I will not tell you of the plight of the Furnace-Man; I will tell you that you will weep when you discover it ... [a] terrific book.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Red at the Bone is a nuanced portrait of shifting family relationships, jumping back and forth in time and moving between the characters’ different voices. Woodson is a writer accomplished at shifting from one register to another ... So it is perhaps no surprise that the pressure and urgency of Melody’s teenage self draws the reader into the novel ... Underneath it all runs the vexed and violent history of the US ... The US has been subject to all kinds of violence: the novel is set in 2001 for a reason, though it would be unkind to give that reason away. With passionate precision Woodson paints the aches and pleasures of all kinds of love: parental love, the love of friendship, sexual love.
RaveFinancial TimesAt first glance, it would appear that The Nickel Boys eschews the literary tricks of Whitehead’s earlier work for an almost affectless realism ... The New York sections have a loose, easy rhythm, offering consolation after the savagery of Nickel ... Despite its plain speaking, The Nickel Boys is as sophisticated—and as important—as The Underground Railroad, as all the work Whitehead has done in chronicling the original sin of his native land. This is a simple yet breathtaking novel, gathering force to the bitter end, striking the reader in its final pages with a revelatory force.
RaveNew StatesmanAll the secret spaces in this remarkable book offer new ways of being and relating: not only to its author, but for the fortunate reader too ... [Macfarlane\'s] own attitude is one of humility, of intent attention and observation, and it is impossible not to admire his willingness to put himself as deeply in the landscape as it is possible to go, often at some risk. And throughout there is the grace of his language. The poetry is in the precision, in the way he matches rhythm to place and action ... Underland is a startling and memorable book, charting invisible and vanishing worlds.
RaveThe New StatesmanThought-provoking ... Gordon is an imaginative and rigorous biographer who has already addressed the lives of Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Brontë and Woolf in full-length books, but the pleasure in this compact volume is the way in which she weaves these lives together, building links across the generations ... One of Gordon’s strengths is always to recognize the tension inherent in biography’s form: finally, how can we know anything? Evidence of anyone’s life is only ever fragmentary ... The truth of these artists’ lives can be found in their writing, and it is to their writing that Gordon listens, closely, attentively, always resisting easy biographical links ... This is no primer to the authors’ works, but it’s not meant to be. That said, it is never rebarbative to the reader with a lesser knowledge of those works—indeed it is enticing ... The real strength of Outsiders, however, is its vivid portrayal of its subjects’ energy, their ability—often at great cost—to find ways to speak. If there is an argument to be had with this book, it’s with that subtitle, and the cliché of \'changed the world\'. I have a sneaking suspicion that Gordon would be among the first to admit that—alas, just look around—they didn’t. The battle is still to be won.
PanThe Guardian\"It’s an intriguing premise, stitched together with fine and surprising imagery, and yet the novel as a whole never quite hangs together. Oyeyemi has a singular boldness of style, which means that her mash-up of Shakespeare and fairytale with references to \'Curb Your Enthusiasm\' and The \'Jerry Springer Show\' is never less than energetic; she brings in Brexit, too, with passing references to Druhástrana’s past glories and present isolationism. But style and story fail to meet ... The push of the vivid prose isn’t enough to carry the book ... There is no boundary, in Oyeyemi’s work, between the magical and the real: and no such boundary exists in the human imagination. When blending the two there is always the risk of whimsy, and Gingerbread falls on the whimsical side of the scale. But Oyeyemi is a writer of wit and courage, qualities that ensure she will continue to build her own dreams, unfettered by the constraints of genre, unbounded by the plain old mortal world.\
PositiveNew StatesmanThis is a hard book to read. The narrator stares unblinking at her terrible grief, and yet evades it, and not only thanks to the words that mother and son bat back and forth like shuttlecocks ... The lost boy is in the pages of this novel—and far beyond it, too.
PositiveFinancial Times\"Hall inhabits each of the voices in her testimonials fully, making these speakers’ stories engaging on their own terms — narrative tension is built in as the reader follows these ordinary lives and looks out for another glimpse of Oppenheimer. The novel drags only towards the end: the last testimonial strays too far from Oppenheimer and for too long; and the voice of Helen Childs is perhaps too similar to that of Sally Connolly. But Hall’s explosive fragmentation of Oppenheimer’s life makes for an original book, a novel of the unseen and finally, the unknowable.\
RaveFinancial Times...[a] striking debut novel ... In the book’s opening pages, Koelb paints a gripping portrait of rough masculinity, but begins to undercut that portrait almost instantly ... The narrative pull of this novel doesn’t derive from the mystery of Abe’s gender identity, resolved for the reader before many pages have been turned. Its power stems from the manner in which Koelb conveys Kunstler’s efforts to draw out manhood from himself ... This is a peculiar, gripping book, and Koelb’s is a distinctive voice ... a fascinating interrogation of the industrial American dream.
RaveNew Statesman\"[Letters to Plath\'s psychiatrist] are naked as only letters between patient and psychiatrist can be, describing in graphic detail Ted Hughes’s aggression, deceit and violence ... It is a sensation that the reader of this volume – which runs to more than a thousand pages – will share ... [Plath] vents her fury to her other correspondents, too, and much of the force of this volume comes from repetition, letter after letter building into a fugue of sorrow and anger.\
Yasmina Reza, Trans. by Linda Asher
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewReza is the bard of bourgeois, neoliberal angst ... Reza is fascinated by what almost always remains unsaid ... Babylon is darker and more mysterious than the plays that have brought her the most renown; the flat affect of [protagonist] Elisabeth’s narration recalls that of Meursault, in Camus’s The Stranger ...\'People who think there’s some orderly system to life—they’re lucky,\' Elisabeth reflects. Any reader who begins with such a belief will have it overturned by the end of Reza’s haunting little tale.
RaveFinancial TimesThe opening of Tommy Orange’s striking first novel forces that historical artefact into the reader’s vision, rhythmic repetition ensuring that there is no escape from recognition ... the reader has an awareness of an observing eye and listening ear as, in each chapter, different voices are heard ... There is hope in this book, hope in the strength of stories told and stories that are finally heard. Orange has no use for linguistic fireworks: his language is intimately plain and confiding. The wonder of this accomplished debut is the way in which he has got under his characters’ skins ... This is a powerful novel of pain and possibility.
RaveThe Financial Times\"His work has a quirky sensibility that recalls Lorrie Moore or George Saunders, an ability to bring the unquestionably weird into the path of daily life without ever seeming forced. However, while The Afterlives concerns the idea of ghosts, it is very much more than a ghost story ... Yes, there’s a lot going on in this novel, but Pierce’s confident storytelling and fine characterisation mean that we always feel in safe hands. One of the satisfactions of The Afterlives is the way in which the author resists easy solutions to the mysteries he sets up ... The Afterlives will raise the hairs on the back of your neck and remind you that another world may be just a heartbeat away.\
RaveThe Financial TimesThree decades ahead of us, in Yuknavitch’s baroque vision, our blue dot has been destroyed not only by our own actions but by a series of violent solar storms that wreak havoc on the planet … Yuknavitch’s novel is a wild ride, not for the fainthearted. There’s plenty of graphic sex (of a kind, given that it’s hardly possible on CIEL), and brutal, honest violence. It has been described as a “retelling” of the story of Joan of Arc, but better to call it a remaking, or even an echo … it would be unfair to box The Book of Joan into tidy allegory. The pleasure of this novel is its inventive energy; it aims to burn itself into your skin.
MixedThe Financial TimesThe book is pulled along by the power of Hunt’s language. Whether he is showing us Dale Henshaw’s prize pig or the dirt along the side of a country road, his voice is original and true. Ottie’s narrative is especially strong in the way in which it plays against the idea of white woman whose (imagined) immaculate virtue was the cause of so many lynchings ... What makes Ottie’s narrative so striking and disturbing is that she bears no animus towards the two men who are due to be murdered; she sees it, as so many did, as a fine show. By sitting us alongside her, in allowing readers to appreciate her charm, the reader becomes complicit — a very effective narrative technique ... But the novel is marred overall by one linguistic choice that runs through the whole book. There is no doubt which word, in the 1930s, the white residents of this Indiana county would use to describe their black neighbours. Hunt chooses to avoid it...This fine novel is marred by the painting over of an ugly — but very necessary — truth.
RaveThe Financial TimesDays Without End is not only a story of survival, it is a love story, too, written in a gorgeous style that blends Barry’s characteristic eloquence with the straight-talk of early America. As such it sets itself firmly in the tradition of Irish diaspora writing — Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea, Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, and so many others ... As they make one hair’s breadth escape after another — with what, finally, seems like miraculous and indeed impossible luck — the reader must wonder at the nature of their blessed life; and whether the subtle author of this tale has perhaps conjured a dream on the other side of death.
RaveThe Financial TimesYou could make the argument that this is really Franny’s book; she has the troubled, questing quality that often marks out Patchett’s female leads. And perhaps you could argue, too, that putting Franny out in front makes Commonwealth a sophisticated metafiction; that’s one way to think about it, once you turn the final page. But in the end this is simply a compelling novel, full of characters who ring true. They suffer, they despair; and they discover that hope can be found in the most unlikely places. If wisdom and kindness win out, it’s not because the path that leads to either is an easy one.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewTheir history together, and Maggie’s assault, are revealed in smooth flashback; with equal aplomb, Pittard shifts between Mark’s perspective and Maggie’s as the book, and their trip, unspool ... Pittard proves herself a master of ordinary suspense ... Pittard creates the feeling of emotional truth.
RaveThe GuardianThis isn’t a long novel, but it is dense in the way a poem is dense, rich with meaning poured into its simple language ... Hot Milk is a powerful novel of the interior life, which Levy creates with a vividness that recalls Virginia Woolf.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThis is an absorbing novel, especially in the sections set in the 19th century...The 21st-century tale carries less conviction; its political message can often seem forced.
PositiveThe GuardianOne of the strengths of McCann’s writing is his ability to place himself, and so his reader, in another’s body; here, as Rebecca moves through the wild landscape, this gift is powerfully displayed. The end is surprising and moving.
RaveThe GuardianThe dark delights that spring from his imagination in this novel have the spellbinding energy that has marked the greatest storytellers since the days of Scheherazade.