RaveiNewsFlanders has a remarkable capacity to see nothing as inevitable. Even as she sifts meticulously through millennia of historical artefacts, Flanders asks the kind of rudimentary questions usually proposed only by small children: but why do we organise things A, B, C? Why not differently? ... Flanders retains a sense of fun ... Flanders finds contemporary resonance in humanity’s search for order.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)The author has a fine eye for aesthetic detail and an even finer one for parental relationships. The star of the show is not actually Beth’s love life, but her heart-breaking attempts to revive her relationship with her daughter ... The illicitness of the strictly forbidden therapist-patient relationship appeals to Beth’s hunger for middle-aged thrills. But Bywater transforms from a buttoned-up professional with a gentle nature to an inconstant suitor who toys with Beth’s affections. I found the evolution a little abrupt and Beth’s willingness to risk all for someone so questionable increasingly hard to swallow ... What fascinated me far more was Beth’s relationship with Fern ... The setting may be bourgeois but the beautifully observed familial pains are universal.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)Zadie Smith’s first collection of short stories shows that she can pack all the astute social commentary of her novels just as deftly into the short form ... Smith explores racism, sexism and class with a light touch ... Across 19 stories, set between Smith’s two hometowns of London and New York, women take centre stage. Men are always leaving them to raise children alone, or obstructing their potential when they stay ... Politics, too, comes under Smith’s blistering gaze ... Some stories are just a few pages, and several...are wildly experimental. Multiple points of view, sometimes, leave characters flailing about in search of a plot. But even when Smith doesn’t quite succeed, her efforts to push the boundaries are tremendous ... This bold and tender book leaves us with the feeling that Smith, like her characters, is still searching for her own identity.
MixedThe Times (UK)It’s a fascinating tale, although the characters’ artifice can feel more enticing than the forgery case ... The art world is richly drawn and its atmosphere pervades the novel ... Throughout the novel, we have been given sinister snippets of rising nationalistic fervour, so that the third act feels heavy-handed, only there to tell us something we know already. When Frank delivers the big reveal, it’s a little underwhelming. No matter, though; the most enjoyable mystery here is the matter of whether anyone is really their authentic self.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)Téa Obreht’s second novel is an expansive and ambitious subversion of Western tropes ... If Inland has a flaw it is that the two narrative strands do not tie together as satisfyingly as one would hope. Separate until the 11th hour, their collision falls a little flat, considering the odyssey we have been on. A book with so much plot ought to end with more of it. Yet there is so much to admire and enjoy here: the interplay of magic and reason, the threats of progress, the tribalism of a nation forming. Above all, the difficulty of simply living alongside one another, evoked in Obreht’s masterful language, variously lyrical, hilarious and profound.