PositiveThe Times (UK)Clegg could probably have stuck with three protagonists, but he adds more ... There are plenty of arresting scenes ... Descriptions are striking and precise. The problem here is the backstory. Clegg doesn’t hold back on boring biographical detail ... Still, the novel succeeds in its aim of observing, quietly, the ways in which the past can derail the present, and how it can be laid to rest. Whatever life has dealt Clegg, it has made him a wise writer.
MixedThe Times (UK)... while it may be heavy on Instagram, flash mobs and Givenchy, its characters’ concerns are as fusty as EM Forster’s ... Kwan is good on the casual racism his characters come up against ... Crazy Rich Asians, Kwan’s debut, was a very funny book that wickedly satirised the obscene excess of the Chinese-Singaporean elite. In Sex and Vanity he attempts more of the same, only this time his sights are on money-mad Americans, Europeans and Asian-Americans. Unfortunately the decadence feels much tamer ... The overkill of detail is also a problem. Barely anyone can get dressed without Kwan mentioning the designer, a habit that gets boring. Including every character’s educational résumé in brackets does not count towards building depth of character either. Many, Cecil in particular, lapse into cliché. There is enough sybaritic fun here to compensate, but EM Forster, I suspect, would be a little sniffy about this homage.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Doyle has form here; the Booker winner has a string of novels to his name that deal with male camaraderie. In Love, again, he captures this awkward dynamic with precision — and the help of profanities ... also an unapologetically slippery book. Doyle goes to lengths to signpost the unreliability of the friends’ shared memories, the shakiness of Joe’s account of leaving his wife, the pair’s inability to articulate what they think ... The most engaging parts are often the straightforward, nostalgic segments when Davy thinks back to his past...It’s these fleeting anecdotes that stick with you ... Ultimately, it’s a tough feat to pull off a novel about a conversation between two drunk men who can’t put what they’re feeling into words. Doyle manages it as well as anyone could.
Samin Nosrat, Illus. by Alice MacNoughton
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)This is an indispensable guide to the whole subject of cooking. The author...takes a simple scientific approach, explaining with humour and concision how all dishes boil down to four elements ... Through a blend of illustrations, grids and essays, she arms you with the underlying principles that you need to make anything taste good. The recipes in the second half are inviting, and the book as a whole will liberate even the greenest of cooks from being a slave to recipes and shopping lists. I’ve been waiting for a book like this for a long time.
C Pam Zhang
PositiveThe Times (UK)... impressive ... filled with gruesome detail ... Remarkably, all four characters are drawn with equal precision, each emerging as fully rounded, with quirks and conflicting desires. The siblings are opposites and the complexity of their relationship is elegantly developed ... This is a family weighed down by secrets; the intrigue of uncovering each new revelation becomes compulsive ... Sweeping in intent, the novel is steeped in the language of folklore and myth: sentences are short and rhythmic; metaphors, similes and allusion abound. Mostly it works. The landscape is captured in its immense harshness, and there are reams of arresting images ... At times, though, the effect can be a little too breathy. How Much of These Hills Is Gold doesn’t wear its themes of oppression and belonging subtly...But bear with it because Zhang’s novel blossoms in the course of its 336 pages into a daring and haunting little epic.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)...Adebayo keeps her vision taut and her writing concise. Stay with Me, longlisted for the Baileys women’s prize for fiction, is all the more affecting and powerful for it ... The intrigue of uncovering Akin’s deception is addictive, built up quickly through revelation and omission. Adebayo keeps the twists coming ... She is too subtle an author to offer a story with neat moral lessons, and her narrative is alive to the pressures Akin and Yejide face ... Adebayo’s prose is a pleasure: immediate, unpretentious and flecked with whip-smart Nigerian-English dialogue. She handles weighty themes with an absence of sentimentality. There are only three first-time novelists on this year’s Baileys longlist; Adebayo deserves her spot among them.
RaveThe Times (UK)This is a 3D novel, and the first instinct is to shudder ... There is nothing here that hasn’t been covered in the more candid memoirs and autobiographies of stars from the 1960s and 1970s. But Barnett’s portrait is unusually perceptive, a mixture of evocative detail and sharp reportage that feels fresh to read. To her credit, too, she scrapes away the gloss to draw out a nuanced and honest account of the loneliness that plagues her singer ... Barnett pulls off the novel and its collaboration with pizzazz, turning it into a feat, not a gimmick. Which goes to show: don’t trust the gut feeling.
PositiveThe Times...[a] taut debut thriller, peopled...with characters unusually alive in their psychological complexities ... Part psychological study and part psychological thriller ... Thomas’s prose is clear and spare, without unnecessary embellishment. The book does have flaws, though. Some characters are more vessel than human, there for Thomas to explore various psychoanalytic theories. Sometimes, too, the novel feels dangerously close to a therapy lesson—not what we’re here for. Certain parallels between Dan and Ruth’s stories are also forced. Still, it’s a gripping debut that makes you wish more clinical psychologists would become novelists.
PanThe Sunday TimesLarge themes—abuse, generational conflict, racism, class, unfulfilled ambitions—are woven into this narrative of looming catastrophe but too simplistically ... At the heart of the family lies a secret of Oedipal proportions that could easily have sustained the novel yet, atypically, Jones never dives deep into its psychological impact ... Jones struggles with psychologies, too, sometimes forsaking characters’ supposedly avowed beliefs for the needs of the plot. She is so wrapped up in contemporary social concerns, in pitting evil against good, that she seems to have forgotten to call on her many literary talents.
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"... [Lalami\'s] vision [is] taut and her prose detailed yet concise ... Some characters are not well rounded and at times the medley can feel as if Lalami is too consciously striving to include every type of outsider voice. Some, though, are immensely strong, and Lalami has used them to fashion a moving and exceptionally rich portrait of a modern American community, one that is much more far-reaching than just a saga of immigration.\
MixedThe Times (UK)[Griffin] builds a remarkably rich sense of place, while also tracing the wider changes affecting Ireland ... Less convincing is the revenge motif threaded through the book ... Maurice is a lovingly rendered example of the current vogue for lonely characters who have fallen through the cracks, which might go some way to explaining all the excitement about the novel. But When All Is Said is not quite the \'rare jewel\' promised, more a charming, if everyday, piece of quartz.
PositiveThe Times (UK)An entirely sweeter offering ... The tone can tend towards cloying. Like most good fairy-tale heroines on the cusp of adolescence, Mary is filled with wonder at the world and its ways but her view can feel limited. Fortunately, Lanmo affords enough wry and spiky observations to save the novella from being too saccharine ... In this bitter age of broken borders, this timely, timeless story’s large helping of sugar is not unwelcome.
MixedThe Times UKRoy’s new novel is more historical in scope...about endemic violence and child abuse in India, but it still deals in hard truths. It is narrated by Myshkin, a horticulturalist in his mid-sixties searching for insight as to why his free-spirited mother, Gayatri, abandoned him as a nine-year-old in 1937. Recently recovered letters she sent to a family friend from Bali, where she absconded with the real-life German composer Walter Spies, reveal her desperation to escape the oppressions of her married life in India. But she didn’t find paradise in Bali either: the Dutch East Indies were soon be embroiled in the Second World War ... Roy blends history and fiction throughout, binding her domestic drama to the political turmoil of its era. It is a mix that doesn’t always gel, but she writes elegantly and intelligently whatever the subject matter, be it love, patriarchy or sweltering landscapes.
PositiveThe Times (UK)The stories in Fen showed an unerring ability to evoke the uncanny, and there’s more of this in Everything Under ... Johnson excels at the slow, inexorable build-up of menace ... But for all the atmosphere of menace, Johnson’s handling of her Sophoclean themes can be remarkably clumsy ... despite the book’s modish cross-dressing, it is also not as radical a reimagining of Sophocles as it might be ... But it is still a deeply involving, unsettling novel that pulls the reader into a uniquely eerie yet recognisable world.
RaveThe TimesThere is a refreshing absence of self-pity to this memoir. Detractors tend to dismiss the collective work of \'instapoets\' as unpolished and technically unsophisticated, but Daley-Ward is a stylish writer, as well as an unusual voice. She doesn’t avoid the many pitfalls of drug writing, but she has a knack for distilling wild emotions into precise imagery, for selecting insightful impressions. Her handling of depression and grief is potently relatable.
PanThe Times (UK)Kate\'s investigations lead her to Rosemary, an 86-year-old who has been swimming there since she was seven ... Recognising a girl in need of help, Rosemary encourages Kate to swim, and Page charts tenderly how she grows in confidence...Switching mainly between Rosemary and Kate’s viewpoints, we quickly come to see that Rosemary is just as lonely as her new friend, steeped in a lifetime’s memories of swimming in the lido with her now deceased husband ... Ultimately, whether readers care about the closure of the lido hinges on their attachment to the characters affected. Unfortunately, they are so poorly drawn and so built from cliché, it’s impossible to feel for them. Tension swiftly falls away ... This is only one of many problems, the most significant of which is Page’s prose. At one point, Kate delivers an impassioned speech to her editor: \'The Lido isn’t just a hole in the ground filled with water that a bunch of people happen to swim in every now and then. It’s bigger than that. It’s so big that if you can’t see it you’re not using your eyes the way you are supposed to.\' My vision must be off, because Page singularly failed to make the plight of the lido matter to me.
PositiveThe TimesHer scope is broad. Untranslated dialect, multiple substories and a wide cast of characters are all crammed in as she grapples with the legacy of the American occupation of the Philippines. Sometimes, the result falls short of what she’s reaching for, but mostly it’s an impressively gripping and nuanced account of the disorientating immigrant experience.