PositiveThe New YorkerInside Story is...digressive and centrifugal, its freewheeling structure, which flits among memories nonchronologically, suggestive of what remembering the past is actually like ... his \'destined mood\'...is one of slow-burning happiness, a buoyant wonder at the daily recurring miracle of existence. Some readers will find this all deplorably smug (a charge levelled at Amis on more than one occasion), but the self-pleased protagonist may be no more of a confection than the customary self-loathing one ... it’s hard to shake the suspicion that the author is playing a taunting game of preëmption, puffing up his narrator so as to later tear him down ... the pages on [Philip Larkin] here represent a valuable supplement to an already ample body of criticism ... the book’s hybrid genre, the way it teasingly straddles the fact-fiction borderline, begins to pay off ... Amis has written about love and lust so many times before that in the Phelps sections of Inside Story, vivid though they sometimes are, he seems to be relying on imaginative muscle memory. The same cannot be said about the book’s treatment of male friendship, a relatively novel theme for Amis ... some of the book’s most powerful moments come when we glimpse a simmering competitiveness beneath the tranquil surface of [Amis and Hitchens\'s] friendship ... Such vignettes are a main attraction of Inside Story, whose narrative elements—including the Phelps affair, the gossipy observations and asides, and the lit-crit musings and creative-writing tips—retain, across the book’s five hundred pages, a miscellaneous quality, as if Amis’s grab-bag structure had been masking some measure of creative lassitude, even appetitive excess ... it’s hard to fight the feeling that the novel’s air of achieved ambition has come at the cost of a more substantial achievement. Whatever else it may be, Inside Story is unmistakably the work of a man with nothing left to prove.
Javier Cercas, Trans. by Anne McLean
PositiveThe New Yorker... finely translated ... Most of what Cercas learns about Mena could be summarized in a page or two, but since value—or, in this case, narrative payoff—is a function of scarcity, each new scrap of information acquires the momentousness of a major life event ... a powerful work of D.I.Y. history. It can also be frustratingly elliptical. One understands Cercas’s decision to renounce the fictional resources that served him so well in Soldiers of Salamis, but the experience of reading a book with so many narrative holes is a bit like visiting a museum where half the collection is out on loan ... The result of this self-restraint is a portrait in negative space; if Mena remains little more than an outline, at least the social world through which he moved is painted with vivid and arresting specificity ... will neither flatter liberal pieties nor assuage feelings of collective guilt. It may help Spaniards, and people farther afield, to better understand the lure of Fascism, a pressing task in today’s world.
MixedThe New York Review of Books...represents an artistic staying of the course ... Again we have as our narrator a searching, fretful, self-divided woman in early middle age ... again Offill builds her story out of a series of clipped and cutting fragments, though this time, alas, her method lacks the element of surprise ... What’s new is an expanded sense of scale, an attempt by Offill to place her characters within a larger, more vividly congested social world ... If the choppy style of Offill’s last novel managed to distill something of a parent’s frazzled consciousness, in Weather the same style is called upon to register the atmospheric disturbances of our ADD culture at large. It is an audacious and, as it turns out, slightly misbegotten project, like painting a house with a toothbrush, but the problem isn’t simply one of scale. Offill can be witty and effortlessly profound; she can also be schmaltzy and banal. Unfortunately her chosen form leaves little room for error ... In Weather, the quality of attention has slackened ... Offill can’t be faulted for endowing her protagonist with humanly recognizable emotions. What’s disappointing is her failure to go beyond the well-worn repertoire of affective responses to the environmental crisis, not simply to worry but to use her novel to actually think about it.
RaveBook PostHempel’s stories are miracles of economy and compression, from which everything expendable has been withdrawn, leaving only a breadcrumb trail of vivid opacities ... With Hempel, we never feel trapped inside narrative; reading her is like being released back into life ... It is not just the sentences themselves but the manner in which Hempel connects one to another that is remarkable. Her stories are full of blanks and omissions, which reveal an invisible architecture. The manner in which Hempel connects one sentence to another is no less remarkable ... In Hempel’s hands, storytelling is a form of seduction that lifts the veil from our eyes even as it enchants.
PanThe New York Review of BooksThe Wall is a powerful thought experiment ... But a thought experiment is one thing, a novel quite another. Strangely for a storyteller of such poise and intelligence, Lanchester often seems unclear about exactly what kind of book he is writing. Is it a spare dystopian fable...or a work of full-fledged realism with a futuristic (or alternate-present) setting ... There is, on the one hand, a palpable excitement at having hit upon a scenario that so potently distills the existential threat facing humanity ... On the other hand, Lanchester appears to be of two minds about how much reality he ought to bestow on this fictional world, as though a surfeit of descriptive detail might smother the mythic force of his conceit ... The problem is that Lanchester never makes a decision. He is unwilling either to pare his book down into something more haunting and elliptical or to work it up into a narrative of convincing heft and complexity. The result is a sappy humanism conveyed in pale, prefab prose ... Lanchester may be on to something here, but a novel that merely confirms its readers’ progressive social values, however imperative they may be in a time of grotesque inequality and recrudescent chauvinism, is going to test the patience of all but the most ideologically immaculate.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books10:04 may be a work of spectacular self-involvement but, happily, the self with which it is centrally involved proves to be one of the most curious and engaging characters in recent fiction … Ben looks at the world with a chilly, illusionless precision. His perceptions of contemporary New York, in all its frantic hedonism and scared hyperactivity, are one of the book’s principal pleasures … If Ben’s political yearnings remain conceptually woolly and, in practical terms, a long way from realization, they point toward another activity in which he has more luck imposing his personal vision on reality—his art … Page by page, it can be luminous, intelligent, poignant, and funny.