RaveThe Observer (UK)... devastating and timely ... Cummins humanises the migrant crisis, delivering a powerful portrayal of the extraordinary lengths people will go to in order to save their loved ones. It is a moving portrait of maternal love and an unflinching description of the experiences of wretched, displaced people on the move ... It is this contrast – familial love against external atrocities – that gives the novel its immediacy and power ... What Cummins does so skilfully in the novel is to subvert popular preconceptions about migrants ... it is hard to imagine there will be a more urgent or politically relevant novel this year.
RaveThe Observer (UK)... beneath [Olive\'s] hard carapace – and this is where part of Strout’s genius lies – is compassion, empathy and vulnerability, as Olive starts to feel aware of her own mortality ... a tour de force. With extraordinary economy of prose – few writers can pack so much emotion, so much detail into a single paragraph – Strout immerses us in the lives of her characters, each so authentically drawn as to be deserving of an entire novel themselves. Compassionate, masterly and profound, this is a writer at the height of her powers.
PositiveThe GuardianGraham Norton’s 2016 debut novel, Holding, surprised critics with its empathy, delicate characterisation and strong plotting. His follow-up again demonstrates these virtues ... Norton is perceptive on the nuances of relationships. Elizabeth’s loneliness is ever present though never overplayed, and her difficult ties with her extended family oscillate between frustration, anger, regret and resignation. The sense of Patricia’s isolation as a single parent in 1970s rural Ireland is sensitively handled, while in both the present and past sections, the politics of small-town communities are captured with insight and precision ... With Norton’s wry sense of humour throughout, A Keeper is a gripping, thoughtful tale about the search for identity, belonging and self-possession.
RaveThe ObserverOccasionally a debut novel arrives that is so assured, so confident in its voice, so skilful in its plotting and characterization that it seems like the work of a seasoned author. Rosie Price’s What Red Was introduces an exciting new voice to fiction ... an atmosphere of barely contained resentments, rivalries and rage, all of which Price captures with acuity and deft humor ... Narratives are cleverly interwoven to create a richly textured whole. The writing is polished, wise and possessed of remarkable emotional intelligence.
PositiveThe ObserverIf ever there were to be a literary love child of Jonathan Franzen and Anne Tyler, then Claire Lombardo’s outstanding debut, which ranges from ebullience to despair by way of caustic but intense familial bonds, would be a worthy offspring ... Lombardo has a keen eye and ear for dysfunctional family dynamics: sibling rivalry, marital disquiet, parental guilt. This is a novel epic in scope – emotionally, psychologically and narratively. Combining a broad thematic canvas with impressive emotional nuance, it’s an assured and highly enjoyable debut.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... impressive ... a bold and timely reinvention of the classic gothic novel: this is a story unashamedly immersed in its literary heritage ... Collins’s writing throughout has a visceral and immediate quality, immersing the reader both in period detail and in Frannie’s experiences ... There is an impressive smorgasbord of themes at play: race, gender, class, sexuality, depression, science, education and the psychological effects of servitude. In Frannie Langton, Collins has created a truly memorable heroine and written a compelling gothic novel for our times.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveThe Observer\"Mouthful of Birds, Schweblin’s new collection of short stories, demonstrates a similar blending of genres [to her previous work], and a comparable climate of surreal, unsettling tales ... Delving into the cryptic depths of the human psyche, this is a highly imaginative and thought-provoking collection, deftly translated by Megan McDowell.\
Karen Thompson Walker
MixedThe Observer\"Not all of Walker’s characters are quite so well-rounded, however ... Overall, the novel lacks the dramatic tension the story demands: we know that some of the characters will inevitably succumb to the virus, but we don’t care enough about which of them will survive. There is, nonetheless, a hypnotic quality to Walker’s writing ... Observations come in affecting, economical prose ... Lyrical and beguiling, The Dreamers is a deeply immersive novel ...\
RaveThe Guardian\"Boyne builds the tension of Maurice’s insidious questioning with masterly precision, allowing the reader to understand Maurice’s duplicitous intentions long before the naive Erich does. What follows is a deliciously dark tale of ambition, seduction and literary theft ... In Maurice Swift, Boyne has given us an unforgettable protagonist, dangerous and irresistible in equal measure. The result is an ingeniously conceived novel that confirms Boyne as one of the most assured writers of his generation.\
RaveThe GuardianTwo of the \'three things about Elsie\' are revealed in the book’s synopsis and are teased out tenderly through Florence’s recollection of their friendship. The third is not disclosed until almost the end of the novel, although astute readers will probably have guessed it much sooner. In most novels, pre-empting a central plot twist spoils the reading experience, but here it is Cannon’s meticulously crafted characters who drive the story ... Throughout Cannon’s writing, there is an intrinsic understanding of the quiet pain that accompanies loneliness ... she sympathetically captures the claustrophobia and enforced cheeriness of old people’s homes ... Cannon reaffirms her interest in the private tragedies of quotidian lives ... Compassionate, thoughtful and tender, it is a novel exploring the pain of nostalgia and personal truths so painful we hide them even from ourselves.
PositiveThe Observer\"Race is essential to these characters’ lives, but Evans’s delicate prose weaves issues of racial identity and politics into the narrative so that they never feel heavy-handed ... Evans writes with great humour and insight about the monotony of caring for small children, and provides a sharp psychological portrayal of the disenchantment and estrangement of long-term relationships. Although the first half of the novel suffers from an excess of backstory, which interrupts the sense of quiet urgency she has introduced in her characters, Ordinary People is nonetheless a deftly observed, elegiac portrayal of modern marriage, and the private – often painful – quest for identity and fulfilment in all its various guises.\
RaveThe Guardian\'Rosemary is 86 but in the water she is ageless.\' In Libby Page’s moving debut, The Lido, swimming is both personal therapy and a great social democratiser. It is where the elderly can rewind time: \'She is a young girl swimming in the morning under the watchful gaze of the big clock.\' And the pool is where Kate, a lonely, shy reporter on the local newspaper and 60 years Rosemary’s junior, comes in an endeavour to conquer her panic attacks: \'It is all around her, filling up the tiny cubicle… There is not enough air. Her lungs will not breathe like she wants them to.\' ... When their lido is threatened with closure, both women are profoundly affected. For Rosemary, her memories are put in jeopardy. For Kate, the chance to report on the story gives her an unexpected professional opportunity and, more important, a chance to become part of a campaign that may rescue her from her own psychological demons ... The Lido serves as a timely reminder of all that we stand to lose through the destruction of our local services, and a celebration of community and friendship.
Sarah J Harris
PositiveThe GuardianHarris produces a rich tapestry of secondary characters and engaging plot lines involving predatory sexual behaviour, social ostracism and bullying. But it is in her meticulously researched and visceral portrayal of Jasper’s synaesthetic world that the novel is at its most distinctive and compelling.
PositiveThe GuardianThe cultural value of sons versus daughters and the human need to find something – or someone – to care for are themes that pervade Girls Burn Brighter ... The novel is narrated in alternate sections by Poornima and Savitha, a device which encourages immersion in each girl’s story, although the narrative might have benefited from greater differentiation in their personalities. As Poornima hunts for Savitha, she repeatedly narrowly misses her by a day or two, a structural trope that, by the second half of the novel, begins to test the boundaries of plausibility. However, Rao evokes the landscape of poverty with great skill and sensitivity ... Both Poornima and Savitha endure multiple episodes of physical, sexual and psychological abuse. There are rapes, enforced prostitution, hot oil attacks, forcible drug-taking, amputated limbs. Many of these scenes are rendered viscerally by Rao in deeply affecting prose ... Still, there is much to admire in Rao’s debut novel: it is a timely and harrowing portrayal of human trafficking, cultural misogyny and the battles still fought every day by millions of women worldwide.
RaveThe GuardianThe Music Shop is a novel about people on the cusp of change and about having the courage to undergo personal transformation. As with Joyce’s other books, community proves to be the catalyst – and the saviour – for these characters ... But what really elevates The Music Shop is Joyce’s detailed knowledge of – and passion for – music. There are stories here about composers and musicians ranging from Beethoven, Vivaldi and Purcell to Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin and the Sex Pistols. Joyce weaves these into Frank’s musical therapy and the flashbacks to his childhood with his bohemian, emotionally remote mother, Peg, who taught him how to listen... This could equally be a description of Joyce’s prose: here is a love story that’s as much about the silences between words as what is said – the spaces between people that can be filled with mystery, confusion and misunderstanding as well as hope.
RaveThe GuardianWhile the gangsters-with-a-heart story might sound improbable, Gattis compensates with whip-smart vernacular and a narrative that zips along. There is depth to his characters too ... Through multiple definitions of the word 'safe' – physical, emotional, psychological, financial – Gattis has created a gripping novel about opportunity, transformation and hope.
RaveThe GuardianStylistically, narratively and emotionally, This Must Be the Place is a tour de force, a complex and nuanced story leaping effortlessly across multiple characters, continents and time frames. And yet, at its heart, it is a story about people who are lost and about their troubled, flawed, deeply affecting attempts to reconnect with the people they love and the world around them ... The epicentre of the novel is a portrait of a marriage, so deftly painted by O’Farrell that the experience of reading it is, at times, quite devastating ... A rich cast of secondary characters populate the narrative, each chapter being told from a different point of view, and it is testament to the distinctiveness of the voices O’Farrell creates that she is able to move the reader seamlessly between them ... technically dazzling and deeply moving.
RaveThe GuardianMy Name Is Lucy Barton confirms Strout as a powerful storyteller immersed in the nuances of human relationships, weaving family tapestries with compassion, wisdom and insight.