MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThis is an uneasy book, which raises many more questions than it answers. Phillips’s own ambivalence is palpable: questioning the project, grappling with her proclivity to judgment and asking what she’s looking for. The book is primarily an inquiry rather than an argument yet the group format tempts the reader to search for connections and conclusions that remain on the one hand elusive, on the other hand obvious. These artists’ experiences of motherhood depend on their support network, temperament, wealth and child-care arrangements; those who become mothers while in the process of defining themselves as artists tend to struggle to reconcile the pulls of different identities more than those with an established body of work, and the benefits (psychological and financial) that tend to accompany it. What emerges most strongly from Phillips’s study is the fact that invisible social structures have, for generations, failed women, their children and their art. We are all the poorer for it.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Wilson’s narrative lays bare the fascinating struggle between Lawrence’s two selves: one peaceful and spiritual, another which fantasises about shooting everyone he sees \'with invisible arrows of death\'. Lawrence, Wilson writes, is a figure \'composed of mysteries rather than certainties\': in this astonishing tale, rife with jealousy, messianism and blood, she meets Lawrence on his own terms, offering readers a mythology of his deeply wild and complex spirit.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The collection – expansively introduced by Hilton Als – touches on many of the themes that run through Didion’s work: the power of illusion [...] the unspoken dynamics of makeshift, often precarious communities; the dangerous thrill of pursuing dreams ... Let Me Tell You What I Mean, its chapters largely rooted in this discombobulating period, is a valuable addition to the literature of self-doubt and self-awareness, an elegant untangling of what and why we remember and forget.
MixedThe New York TImesAfter numerous historical, fictional and cinematic treatments, the story of the suffragist movement is familiar, though always captivating ... At more than 900 pages, Holmes’s book is packed with detail, but marred by so much repetition that the reader is left with the impression of a vast amount of material not fully marshaled into narrative form. At times, her paragraphs feel like notes hastily compiled and not fully digested; moments of high drama are interrupted by digressions that leave the reader grasping to fillet meaning from a barrage of information. Holmes’s writing is prone to sweeping overstatement and replete with clichés ... The word \'radical\' is so overused as to lose all meaning, applied to everything from the views of W. E. B. Du Bois to an English folk ballad, from Mancunian socialism to a vegetarian restaurant ... Despite its length, Holmes’s book tends to skate over opportunities for psychological insight into its subject, in particular her personal relationships. Potentially seismic quarrels tend to be reported then resolved in the space of a few lines, with little attention paid to the erosions and ambivalences that shape dynamics over a lifetime of shared experience ... Nonetheless, no book on Sylvia Pankhurst could fail to pass on an exhilarating story.
Judith Schalansky, trans. By Jackie Smith
RaveThe BafflerThe book is a collection of twelve pieces, each sixteen pages long, which take as their theme something that has been irretrievably lost and survives only in legend, part, or echo. Schalansky’s gaze traverses a wide span of history, surveying subjects from the poetry of Sappho or the ruins of a once-splendid Roman villa to the dismantled debating chamber of an obsolete regime or the faded beauty of the aging Greta Garbo. In rich, evocative, precise prose—beautifully translated from the German by Jackie Smith—Schalansky recalls these lost things and meditates on their destruction, all the while interrogating the extent to which memory—or writing—can compensate for material loss ... Throughout An Inventory of Losses , Schalansky insists on the significance of personal memories, unstable as they may be, over the official historiography promulgated by the state. The political import of her work lies in her attention to the possibility of multiple narratives, fragmented by time yet cumulatively powerful. Here, private losses are interspersed with stories of large-scale environmental or societal collapse; with sensitive attention to detail, Schalansky manages to combine the micro and macro without diminishing the significance of either.
PositiveThe Telegraph (UK)On Immunity is an influential entry into a passionately fought debate that divides American society in two: those who vaccinate their children, and those who don’t ... Biss is calling – politely but powerfully – for globalised society to examine its conscience, and vaccinate ... As well as setting out a compelling argument in favour of vaccination, on ethical as well as scientific grounds, On Immunity is a cultural study, in the tradition of Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Weaving her own experiences of motherhood into the history and social implications of the vaccination debate, Biss uses vaccination as a way into talking about all sorts of other questions. At its core...this is a discussion about what we most fear, and whom we trust.
PositiveThe New Statesman... O’Brien tests fiction’s capacity to probe, through language, empathy and imagination, what reportage cannot ... In other hands, using fiction to tell the story of other people’s unimaginable pain would be exploitative. But O’Brien is one of the few writers who can make the case for fiction’s power in such circumstances ... The violence in the camp is charted in intense yet not gratuitous detail ... O’Brien’s descriptions of landscape are particularly rich...But she is at her most compelling when she voices Maryam’s interiority ... The cumulative power is immense.
RaveNew StatesmanTurning to fiction for our truth doesn’t seem so incongruous in an era of fake news – yet while this novel is firmly rooted in present reality, it glories in false identities, untrue facts and surreal contradictions ...it shares a setting – Brexit Britain – and various perennial themes: borders, family, empathy, and the deep-seated connections between politics and art ... Autumn invoked a divided country, full of \'people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually becoming dialogue.\' Here, we have a divided and dysfunctional family ... The novel is lucid and tightly constructed ...its disparate strands converge tautly to convey and deepen Smith’s powerful political message ... Smith’s voice, so wise and joyful, is the perfect antidote to troubled times: raw and bitter in the face of injustice, yet always alive to hope, however slight.
PositiveNew StatesmanThe novel is lucid and tightly constructed. From meditations on the art of Barbara Hepworth...to the existential meaning of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline...its disparate strands converge tautly to convey and deepen Smith’s powerful political message ... Smith’s voice, so wise and joyful, is the perfect antidote to troubled times: raw and bitter in the face of injustice, yet always alive to hope, however slight.
PositiveThe Financial TimesIn this joyful examination of six women’s lives in food, [Shapiro] sets out to excavate the minutiae of domestic routines for insights into the connection between mental state and menu … Shapiro focuses not only on chefs and food writers (though both feature here), but also shows how food, as the primary output of domestic labour, always plays a subtle role in the way women construct their femininity, against the backdrop of external pressures. Several of the women in this book use food — consciously or not — as a way to mediate relationships with the men around them … Food, Shapiro writes, is ‘intimately associated with all our appetites.’ Her approach lends itself to fascinating insights into her subjects’ relationships; in every domestic partnership that she details, food is revealed as an unstated battleground.
PositiveThe Financial Times\"The blood and guts are gruesome, but their graphic power is soon numbed. I found the tragedy most effective when conjured through distinctive images ... As he ponders whether humankind is fundamentally cruel, his painful memories render the novel’s title ironic: there is a stark absence of humanity in these all-too-human acts. Like The Vegetarian, Human Acts portrays people whose self-determination is under threat from terrifying external forces; it is a sobering meditation on what it means to be human.\
RaveThe Financial Times[A] wild, multi-layered and deeply affecting novel ... Means controls a thrilling narrative, full of pacy dialogue and dramatic setpieces ... The speculative aspects of the complex premise are ingenious, but, as in Orwell’s 1984 or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (novels that also treat state interference with citizens’ minds and bodies), it’s his sensitive unravelling of the situation’s psychological effects that gives Hystopia its considerable bite ... This rich novel takes us far beyond Vietnam-era America; it is a potent examination of what makes, and keeps, us human.
RaveThe Financial TimesSpiotta’s own hybrid form, piecing together narrative, internet chats, transcripts of films and phone conversations, presents multiple storylines from shifting angles. Meadow’s story unfolds in tandem with that of an even more intriguing character, Jelly; the strands cohere towards the end when Jelly becomes one of Meadow’s subjects ... Spiotta perfectly conjures the static intimacy of long phone calls, and sensually evokes Jelly’s nervous excitement — part sinister, part erotic, part poignant — as she draws the men out, in one case forming a durable, eerily codependent relationship ... This is an extremely clever novel, about art, identity and ideas.