Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
PanThe New York Times Book Review\"The novel offers some promising mysteries ... As historical secrets and hauntings begin to pile on top of one another, one has the sense of a writer throwing a lot of ideas against a wall in the hope that something will stick. The plot is full of melodramatic bustle, but its wheels spin without gaining much traction ... In Killing Commendatore, the narrator’s dreaminess mainly feels unfocused, and a story that might have been engaging at 300 or 400 pages is drawn out to almost 700 ... Killing Commendatore is a baggy monster, a disappointment from a writer who has made much better work.\
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken
Positive4ColumnsAt 1,156 pages, this final volume is sprawling and episodic. It is also a public performance, in that it was written as the drama around the publication of the earlier volumes was unfolding. There is a sense of the worm eating its tail or tale ... There are moving passages in the new book, notably a painful discussion of his wife’s bipolar disorder ... Book Six should finally put to rest the interpretation of the early volumes of My Struggle as the work of a \'noble savage,\' a deliberately artless or unmediated outpouring. Knausgaard is frank here about his artifice and more than happy in the realms of intellectual abstraction ... his explorations seem urgent, part of an attempt to present \'a man in full,\' to give weight to every part of his life, connecting his intellectual preoccupations to his domestic ones ... It is instructive to watch an attentive novelist sifting through what is known about Hitler’s hungry early years ... Knausgaard’s intention is not to recuperate or exonerate Hitler, but to suggest that presenting him as an immutable figure of evil, as Kershaw feels duty bound to do, is a sort of fictionalization ... By its nature, My Struggle—a vast text produced at a breakneck pace—is a patchy, imperfect book, but reading it is an unforgettable experience. Knausgaard’s presentation of self is not only a democratic assertion of the importance of an ordinary life, but also a major contribution to the scant literature of fatherhood.
Jordan B. Peterson
PanThe GuardianOnce the cloud of testosterone has cleared, the reader discovers that each of Peterson’s 12 rules is explained in an essay delivered in a baroque style that combines pull-your-socks-up scolding with footnoted references to academic papers and Blavatskyesque metaphysical flights...The effect is bizarre, like being shouted at by a rugby coach in a sarong ... Unfortunately, he is not a man who will be content with a heuristic when he thinks there’s a fundamental truth to be had. As a good student of Jung, he likes an archetype, ideally one he can ground in biology ... What makes this book so irritating is Peterson’s failure to follow many of the rules he sets out with such sententiousness...He is happy to dish out a stern injunction against straw-manning, but his 'Postmodernists' and Marxists are the flimsiest of scarecrows, so his chest-thumping intellectual victories seem hollow. He appears sincere, and in some ways admirable in his fierce desire for truth, but he is much less far along his journey than he thinks, and one ends his oppressive, hectoring book relieved to be free of him.
PositiveThe GuardianIf you spend your days glued to your phone and have 30 political tabs open on your browser, much of the material in No Is Not Enough will be familiar. The book’s chief value lies in synthesis. Klein’s particular background and expertise allow her to pull together the disparate threads of what it would be misleading to call 'Trumpism,' if only because of the unwarranted suggestion of system and control. How you view her political proposals will depend on your politics, particularly on the value one ascribes to what used to be called 'the extraparliamentary left' ... Klein’s book is ultimately optimistic, because she believes the power to make change lies in the popular will. She calls on us to recognise that this will has enemies, and they are making havoc.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThis is a book about self-consciousness … 10:04 feels like a significant book because it is so thoroughly inhabited by this yearning, and so abjectly conscious of the ways in which it falls short … Formally 10:04 belongs to an emerging genre, the novel after Sebald, its 19th-century furniture of plot and character dissolved into a series of passages, held together by occasional photographs and a subjectivity that hovers close to (but is never quite identical with) the subjectivity of the writer … At worst, this kind of writing can degenerate into something like an artfully curated social media feed, but Lerner writes with a poet’s attention to language, and manages to make his preoccupation with identity more than solipsistic…10:04 connects this anxiety about identity with metaphysical questions concerning time and repetition.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...the space mission, the alien and all the rest of the book’s extravagant conceptual furniture are merely metaphors for the human-scale issues that are its real concerns, in particular the collapse of Jakub’s marriage to Lenka. That’s not to say Kalfar hasn’t done his research. There are lovingly detailed passages on the mechanics of going to the toilet and cleaning your teeth in orbit, the dangers of muscle wastage and other minutiae of life in zero gravity, but all the whizzy space business is harnessed to the basic question of what it means to leave and whether it’s possible to come back ... Kalfar’s satire of Czech Communism treads familiar territory, which, being retrospective, lacks the urgency that this kind of writing used to have before the Velvet Revolution. But for all the strangeness of outer space, it is the writing about his home village, the place to which he longs to return and perhaps never can, that beats strongest in this wry, melancholy book.
PositiveThe GuardianThis cacophony, and the grotesquerie of the deformed spirits, lends the novel a texture that is superficially unlike the work that has made Saunders popular, stories that often play off the tension between a casual vernacular voice and a surreal situation. Lincoln in the Bardo feels like a blend of Victorian gothic with one of the more sfx-heavy horror franchises ... In Lincoln in the Bardo, the immense pathos of the father mourning his son, all the while burdened with affairs of state, gives these sections of the book a depth that isn’t always there when Lincoln is off stage. The busy doings of the spirits are entertaining, and Saunders voices them with great virtuosity, but the tug of Lincoln’s grief is sometimes too strong for them not to feel like a distraction ... Lincoln in the Bardo is a performance of great formal daring. It perhaps won’t be to everyone’s taste, but minor missteps aside it stands head and shoulders above most contemporary fiction, showing a writer who is expanding his universe outwards, and who clearly has many more pleasures to offer his readers.
Javier Marias, Trans. by Margaret Jull Costa
RaveThe Guardian\"...Marías’s narration has a deceptively aimless quality, circling round apparently minor or inconsequential details that are gradually revealed to be integral to an extremely taut structure. As ever, Margaret Jull Costa translates his long, winding sentences into beautiful English prose, both erudite and conversational – a considerable stylistic feat ... a fusion of a coming-of-age story with something like a conspiracy thriller. As ever, with Marías, it is an arch and sophisticated entertainment animated by a probing moral intelligence, a demonstration of what fiction at its best can achieve.\
RaveThe Guardian...[a] fine, sad, angry book ... The stories he uncovers have a dreadful ordinariness. They don’t speak particularly to the larger political narratives around gun violence, and Younge doesn’t twist anything to make them so ... [an] important, timely book.
MixedThe GuardianAs more than one reviewer has pointed out, Vance’s stories of hillbilly pathology are peculiarly reminiscent of the 'welfare queen' stories deployed against black people during the Reagan years to justify his assault on the social safety net ... Readers looking to understand the class fault lines within white America will be enlightened by Vance’s narrative of class mobility, but as a guide to the new political terrain Hillbilly Elegy is uneven, and frustratingly silent about the writer’s real commitments.
PositiveThe GuardianLeovy touches briefly on the social forces that created LA’s ghettos – restrictive covenants on housing in more desirable areas, preventing sale to blacks, mass migration from Louisiana and Mississippi – but never deals with this history in depth. This is not a 'big picture' book about Los Angeles in the mode of Mike Davis’s magisterial City of Quartz. Instead, she adopts the familiar format of the police procedural, introducing us to a team of heroic hard-bitten detectives and narrowing her story down to one particular murder ... Leovy has sympathy for the dangers and difficulties faced by police, and while she acknowledges the LAPD’s brutal history, she sometimes soft-pedals the frank hostility of many officers to the people they are pledged to protect and serve ... what sets Ghettoside apart from the slew of factual police procedurals published every year, is a compelling analysis of the factors behind the epidemic of black-on-black homicide, and the beginnings of a policy prescription for tackling it. This makes Ghettoside an important book, which deserves a wide audience.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewBook 5 seems both more controlled and traditional in form than much of what’s gone before, following the conventions of the bildungsroman to tell the story of an unhappy young man who becomes a writer. Frequently bleak, it is also knowing and often extremely funny ... For those of us who have found My Struggle addictive, and want to claim it as a serious work, its shameful nakedness feels important, a kind of writing that asserts the raw value of the 'thoughts no one else has and which no one must ever know.' As Knausgaard puts it here, 'What emerged from this was myself, this was what was me.'
MixedThe GuardianIn many ways an accomplished novelist, Mahajan occasionally drives his penchant for arresting imagery off a cliff ... The author only intermittently brings his intelligence and considerable nuance to bear on the social and political currents in which the characters are trapped. Instead, he retreats into the default register of contemporary Indian literary fiction, a discreetly elevated realism devoted to the vicissitudes of life in the middle-class extended family. Mahajan is at his best when he heads out of this comfort zone to explore the ramifications of his assertion that 'a good bombing takes place everywhere at once.' The bomb’s impact is absorbed by the Khuranas, the Ahmeds and the quasi-familial terrorist cell, and too often the impact of the book is absorbed by its focus on family stories, dulled where it ought to be amplified.