RaveIrish Times (IRE)Chidgey is excellent at infusing Justine’s memories with a creeping unease. An unreliable narrator – there are black spots in her memory from seizures she experienced – the burgeoning suspense is expertly controlled until the formidable denouement ... In addition to the compelling central plot, Chidgey deftly integrates casual sexism; racism; objectification of women; and oppression by the Catholic church into her imagining of this claustrophobic community.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)[Baker] has accomplished something remarkable – offering a fresh perspective on a setting that would seem to have already been exhausted by countless other creative representations ... A delicate psychological thriller that, despite its slow pace and ever so gradual acceleration, proves ultimately gripping ... The subject is exhausting and yet this novel is exhilarating – a timely tour-de-force with graceful nuance.
PositiveThe Irish Times\"Taylor is excellent at scrutinising societal malaise, class and financial inequity and crystallising the toxic relationship between commerce and art. He is adept at illuminating with grace how political the personal actually is, with an unflinching determination to find the truth, however ugly or beautiful ... Taylor’s authorial voice is strong, and the grand design of his novel is carefully orchestrated. At times, however, the diversity of his characterisation is weakened by the similarity of tone throughout and this makes it increasingly hard to distinguish between all the players. Nonetheless, there is an embarrassment of riches here in terms of zeitgeist deconstruction, identity construction and the mobilisation of artistic impulse. Taylor asks who gets to make art, and why. And he isn’t afraid to tell us the answer.\
MixedIrish Times (IRE)A mesmerising fable set in the prelude to a real-life chilling historical moment ... Consuming ... There is much to admire on a sentence level and in the author’s ability to immerse the reader in atmospheric other-worldliness. For some, surrendering to the feverish confessional of Elodie will be luxurious. Others may find it suffocating as the narrative thread becomes harder to follow ... There is a conflict in this novel between the realism of the historical event that inspired it and the surrealism of the imaginative tale that it has been fused with. The pre-existing mystery of what happened to the town is such a powerful source of intrigue already that focusing on it through the disorientating lens of Elodie’s fantastical viewpoint feels like a missed opportunity. No doubt Mackintosh intended for this controlled glimpse to offer a specific reading experience that amplified the strangeness of the source material into even more spectacular musings. As it stands, however, the reality and the speculative make for at times uncomfortable bedfellows where the rules of engagement are not always clear ... Nonetheless, this short novel has an embarrassment of riches in terms of style, decadence and graceful flair. One to be read for its literary credentials more so than its storytelling, this novel still has charm enough to be compelling.
PositiveIrish Times (IRE)The American novelist has proven herself to be a thoughtful storyteller capable of delivering heavyweight ideas with a light touch ... This is not a conventional thriller. First of all, the revelation is entirely predictable. Second, that is the point. This novel is less about solving the crime and so much more about solving the bigger questions that dominate our lives ... The framing of the narrative is somewhat awkward ... This is a small irritation, though, in a novel that otherwise feels very controlled ... This novel is suspenseful, but not primarily because of the murder mystery being untangled ... Quietly riveting.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Exquisite ... The voice of the narrator is unique – here is a man who articulates his experience of the world with imaginative flair and a dark wit. He skates close to the danger zone of sentimentality before, each time, subverting the romance with stark reality ... It is the poet’s eye for observation, and precise prose, that elevates this stream of consciousness to something very particular, intimate and purposeful ... It is remarkable to read a love story so universal that still articulates something illuminating about love itself. Goddard has found new ways to express the achingly familiar without ever recycling cliched representations ... Goddard has hit a nerve with this devastatingly funny, intimate portrait of a modern man in a contemporary love story. If ever a book could be read as a pilgrimage to discover what the heart finds sacred, this is it.
Selby Wynn Schwartz
RaveIrish TimesThe popular fiction genre of \'muse-lit\', where the lives of misunderstood or under-appreciated women are reviewed through a contemporary feminist lens, often suffers in execution as the truth of these women’s experiences cannot be rewritten in an authentic way that offers the meaningful justice that readers crave. Schwarz, however, has overcome this challenge through the scrupulous integrity of her research and by staying close to primary sources produced by the women where they dictated their philosophies, experiences and aspirations in their own voices ... After Sappho is an ambitious literary project that delivers on its own promise with great stylistic power and verve.
MixedIrish Times (IRE)Instinct for tone...is...conspicuously absent from Heisey’s work. The narrator, Maggie, has undoubtedly mastered the art of dry, cynical wit and, although the result is not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, it is often amusing ... It is quite painful, however, to constantly sit with Maggie’s self-lacerating thinly disguised as self-deprecating humour for extended passages, especially when tonally it tends to repeat the same note. By the time her friends have grown tired of her in the novel, the reader too is desperate for a change in gear and for some progression ... Heisey is excellent at producing these fragmentary asides that offer genuinely funny insights. These welcome interruptions of the narrator’s voice suggest that perhaps if the book had not been written exclusively from Maggie’s first-person perspective, that a greater dimension to the material may have been uncovered ... Heisey does deliver on the promise of an astute, comedic portrayal of Millennials’ existential anguish. For anyone feeling overwhelmed by the onset of adulthood looking different from the fantasy, Heisey offers an alternative to the cliched wisdom of elders and will definitely make you feel less alone, actually.
Andrew Sean Greer
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)Inevitably, the sequel suffers somewhat by comparison – our first introduction to Less had all the power and delight of surprise and this second adventure feels more like an extension rather than a deepening of the narrative ... It is not necessary to have read Less to enjoy Less is Lost but the experience will be richly enhanced if you do read the books in sequence. If Less is a masterpiece, Less is Lost is undeniably an enjoyable encore. While it may not deliver quite the emotional range of its predecessor, there is no better literary company than Freddy Pelu, the omniscient narrator who recounts Arthur’s adventures from a position of knowledge and imagination ... Greer is a master storyteller who compels the reader to follow him with an easy confidence that belies the complex craft supporting his utterly unpretentious style. With a sleight of hand, he tackles the big questions of life with humour and grace – and leaves the reader subtly altered when he is done. Less teaches us that an easy life, free from incident, may also be free of poetry. That a different hue of happiness comes with survival. And that not all who wander are lost. Read Less to fall in love and then pick up Less is Lost to rekindle a favourite old flame.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)It is a remarkable undertaking to create an authentic portrayal of an unimaginable ancient world on the page when such scant knowledge of this era exists. And yet, it is a testament to the extraordinary imaginative powers of Stott that this artfully resurrected Londinium thrums with life. Extensive research, with forensic attention to detail, has undoubtedly been dedicated to the representation of this forgotten era, but the knowledge is yielded with admirable grace and a powerful instinct for the reader’s desire for balance between world-building and narrative progression ... Stott writes into the silences of the historical record as an act of revelation – what emerges are complex characters, with fascinating stories, who are enriched with a zeal for survival. What we recognise now as a mysterious, shadowy time is their ordinary present, and their lives are rendered with total conviction on the page ... Stott has created a work of elegant historical fantasy with great intellect, curiosity, imagination and empathy that is utterly compelling. The fusion of the author’s great passions, literature and history, has found a magnificent outlet in this unique and extraordinary novel. No other author would have attempted this challenge, nor could have succeeded in wielding its components into something so powerful. A definite contender for this year’s literary prizes, it is difficult to imagine any reader not becoming bewitched by Dark Earth.
RaveIrish Times (IRE)The wealth of wisdom [Day] has accumulated through her non-fiction work manifests powerfully in Magpie, which is constructed upon thoughtful, clear-sighted examinations of the difficult themes of infertility and mental health ... To say anything further regarding the plot would be to undermine the exquisite reading experience – the less you know before you start, the better. Suffice to say, it has all of the misdirection, suspense and intrigue of the best psychological thrillers ... Fully realised, complicated and completely distinct from each other, Kate and Marisa come alive on the page and make for compulsive reading. If the trope of Jake’s territorial mother-in-law feels a little tired, the woman herself is written with acerbic wit and does ultimately earn her keep as a pivotal player in these high-stake games ... There is a stylish tone to Day’s prose that ensures a luxurious reading experience, even as the pace intensifies. With a great eye for detail, the world of the book is textured, sensuous and captured with flair. Occasionally this strength does ultimately weaken the work when the detailing of physical description becomes overloaded ... Diversions from an authentic emotional state, however, to focus on interior decoration or clothing, can pull the reader out of the narrative and feel like an intrusion of the authorial voice. Nonetheless, Day’s thriller is undoubtedly elevated by the wordy pictures that she paints ... Throughout Magpie, the author expertly unspools the tension to achieve an atmosphere of suspense that compels the engaging plot forward. To achieve this while tackling weighty topics of fertility, mental health and motherhood with nuance, grace and empathy is a remarkable achievement ... Day has written a psychological thriller that offers all the entertainment of an exciting suspense novel, while also managing to create an overarching feeling of optimism for the human spirit and raising important, thought-provoking questions along the way. At once both creepy and comforting, Magpie proves to be provocative yet life-affirming. And it offers at least two magpies worth of joy.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... worth the wait ... The novel begins as a social comedy with the finely tuned cultural observations only found in the very best works of the East meets West literary tradition ... his great archaeological dig to uncover what is at the heart of contemporary humanity truly delivers on the promise of what Brick Lane suggested might come next from Ali ... What we are also far too familiar with as a society is the painful reality of the dark secrets that often lay undiscovered beneath cultural silences such as these. Ali’s delicate unravelling of the secret burning threads that tie families in knots for generations is exquisite ... The beating heart of this novel is the author’s uncompromising scrutiny of the messy, heart-breaking, head-wrecking, brutal beauty of family dynamics. All the characters are flawed, capable of receiving and delivering hurts, and a bundle of contradictions. This may be true of us all but, when the full gamut of potential human behaviour is captured with grit and grace on the page, it truly elevates the literature to become a lens of enlightenment through which we can finally see ourselves. Heroes and anti-heroes fuse to create multidimensional characters who each evoke huge empathy ... Ali’s rendering of sibling-parent relationships is a masterclass in family psychology played out with subtlety, intellect and great humour ... could be the novel we all desperately need to read in 2022. Rich, insightful, soulful, with a cast of characters not easily forgotten, this is a traditional novel in the best sense of the word. It offers the sort of immersive reading experience that may remind you why you first fell in love with reading.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Destined to become one of the great novels of our time, this ingenious work more than lives up to the hype. A literary conundrum, composed of four books in one, this surprising, engrossing and beautifully executed novel confirms Diaz’s status as a virtuoso of storytelling ... The competing narratives across the four streams interrogate fact vs fiction, as the narrator desperately tries to extract the truth from the murky manipulations of the affluent elite. Each evolution is a revelation that deepens the reading experience without any inertia creeping in. The result is a novel that spans the entirety of the 20th century, provoking the reader to confront the deceptions in society that sustain us. Who and what we can trust within the complex morality structures of a capitalist world is examined on both a micro and a macro level to great effect ... one of the greatest strengths of this novel is its pleasing unpredictability which guarantees the reader an exhilarating experience ... Despite its stylistic trickery, however, the novel never succumbs to any sense of gimmick. At the heart of this searing examination of capitalism, class and wealth is a fundamental question about the power of storytelling and meaning of fiction. This soulful quest is what elevates Truth from a cold anti-capitalist meditation on mercenary greed and sordid influence, to something that speaks to the heart of humanity. Diaz has accomplished that rare thing – a literary page-turner that offers compulsive reading with exquisite prose. Having already been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his debut, Trust firmly establishes Diaz as one of the great American authors working today.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)In her latest work of quiet devastation, Tessa Hadley casts a Greek tragedy upon the lives of a conservative, suburban English family ... Few contemporary novelists are so adept with the seamless omniscient narration that seems second nature to Hadley ... If anything, Hadley is a victim of her past success. Having set the bar so high...her latest work does not quite reach her past heady heights. She has always excelled in the art of subtle storytelling, elevating the private plot of an ordinary life to something universal and staggering. Essential human stories, dissected and held up to the light, are Hadley’s tour de force ... On this occasion, however, the plotting of the narrative made its presence felt in explicit ways that weakened rather than strengthened its power ... What is undeniable, however, is her exquisite ability to exemplify Tolstoy’s poignant attention to detail. Every description in this novel is dynamic, infused with storytelling, so that all elements are working hard for their place on the page. She is masterful at capturing the authentic detail that unlocks a character or transports us to another place and time ... Hadley demonstrates a particular talent for oscillating between the tiniest beat of life and the exaggerated hysteria of human emotion ... Emotion, however, is seldom allowed to gush on to the pages of a Hadley novel – her prose instead is refined, clean and precise ... Free Love is dedicated to the great questions of fate and freedom, familial duty and self-care, passion and commitment while resisting any impulse to tell a morality tale. By the end, new questions are arising for these characters that we have become so intimate with. As such, there is a residual feeling that their stories continue, and Hadley has the confidence not to wrestle them into a forced neat conclusion.
RaveIrish Times (IRE)Egan excels at navigating an imaginative world where the interconnected lives of the characters are examined at points of intersection over a number of decades. Interrogating our relationship with social media, gaming, alternate realities and, crucially, each other, The Candy House offers a bold, brilliant perspective on a society that feels perilously close to our own. It is not essential to have read Goon Squad in advance of embracing The Candy House but those who have will appreciate the intertextuality between both works and the recognition of characters met before ... The connections offer thematic context more than essential plot points and are a further layer of rich texture that enhance the reading pleasure for those already familiar with Egan’s world-building ... Egan has created a book akin to a concept album that is best experienced by allowing its controlled chaos to carry you along. Chasing a clear arc and a neat resolution will only lead to frustration but embracing the spectrum offers enlightenment. Intellectual, philosophical, empathetic, moving – The Candy House further cements Egan’s iconic status in contemporary literature.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Transversing across that pivotal time in European history and moving from the dirty smog of London’s East End to the sensuous piazzas of Florence, Winman’s ability to deliver a micro story on a macro scale is impressive. There is something very particular about the prose that sets her apart from other contemporary novelists. The omniscient narrator of Still Life bears more resemblance to that of a classic novel than might be currently considered fashionable—the tone is warm and avoids the chilly vernacular of many of her peers—and Winman is unafraid to infuse the prose with moments of magical realism via a sentient tree here, a cognisant parrot there ... And it offers a rich education in art appreciation and social history. All of which, when delivered with the author’s technical wizardry, elevates the work as one that will resonate long after this particular moment in time. It is timeless, not trendy; proactive, not reactive.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)It is remarkable ... There is no discernible plot in a traditional sense but rather an observation of how the apparent plotless nature of life is in itself the very story of what is to be. The ordinariness of life has been elevated to something extraordinary. There are, however, motifs that do offer some narrative connective tissue as a through line across the space and time of the work. It is primarily a meditation on solitude and loneliness; the narrator is vividly aware of her isolation but not victimised by it ... The most poignant passages in the novel are found in reflections upon the legacy of childhood, of parental influence, on the adult child ... There is an eerie quality to Lahiri’s prose that causes it to linger in the mind long after reading. Deceptively simple, the language is powerfully controlled to render the greatest possible impact on the reader without ever feeling overblown or hyperbolic. From the very first episode, there is an overwhelming confidence in the execution of this work. Not one word is wasted. A total absence of exposition ensures each micro-fiction is surgically edited to its barest, most beautiful bones. And yet, there is a warmth here that encourages great affection for the anonymous narrator. Written with intelligence, elegance, empathy and hypnotic power, Whereabouts is destined to become a book of the year.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)With stories accordingly spanning two decades, this collection serves to collate Krauss’s existing body of short-form work, with some new additions, as opposed to the author creating a deliberate compilation of new work linked by theme or intention. That is not to suggest, however, that the stories are totally discordant with each other ... Krauss has reflected upon the Jewish immigrant experience akin to that of her parents throughout her writing career and her nuanced examination of that community permeates this collection. The result is an accomplished anthology that spans the globe as Krauss wrestles with many of the ideas addressed in her four novels: identity, fragmentary lives, connection and disconnection, sexual politics, faith, desire, and the complex dynamics of relationships ... The real strength of this collection lies in her ability to walk a precarious narrative tightrope. The author expertly articulates the tensions that exist within and between people as they navigate their relationship with themselves and others without ever feeling compelled to resolve those tensions or make final judgments ... In a #MeToo world where previously accepted ideas of masculinity are finally being dismantled, this collection successfully inhabits multifaceted male characters and allows them to exist in their full complexities ... Krauss is exceptionally good at articulating both sexual dynamics and the intergenerational shifts between parents and their offspring as culture and society evolves ... End Days perhaps best encapsulates Krauss’s literary prowess at elevating the ordinary life into the realm of the extraordinary ... As a calling card for the novels, this collection delivers a strong indication of how electrifying her writing can be. It also holds its own, however, as a powerful literary body in its own right – a nuanced, provocative exploration on what it means to be human.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)How should, for example, white novelists approach writing from the perspective of a black character to avoid this? Such is the challenge Hornby faces in his ninth novel ... Renowned for his brilliant portrayal of the interior lives of men struggling to survive in a society infused with toxic masculinity, it seems a brave and bold move for Hornby to create two protagonists that are not Just Like Him ... We know Hornby is brilliant at writing about men not unlike himself ... Hornby is a writer who has proven himself time and again to be hugely empathetic ... His trademark observations of human beings and their doings deliver the reader properly funny moments ... The connection between the couple reads completely authentic ... Where Hornby’s prose becomes truly electric is his searing portrayal of the effects of alcoholism on a marriage and a family ... just what we need: good company, great laughs and a gentle poking reminder of the humanity of those we think we don’t understand.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... the novel’s scope and literary extravagance extends far beyond what its physical matter suggests could be possible ... In the absence, to begin with, of any particular narrative, the prose casts a spell of its own – there is something chilling and unnerving about the intoxication of the language luring us further into the House ... The association with memory loss and trauma is poignant ... Piranesi, the novel and man both, are luxuriously enigmatic and the labyrinthine House they inhabit is intoxicating. This novel is an enchanting, dark, multilayered offering that more than lives up to the power of its predecessor.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)It is clear that Sittenfeld’s intentions were good. The author is excellent at interrogating the explicit and implicit sexism that hampers women at all strata of society; her great skill is in identifying the minutiae of life at a micro level that drives society at its most macro. The right questions are asked, but the narrative often shies away from definitively answering them. Whereas the original short story offers something revelatory, the novel offers much less illumination and instead further obfuscates the truth of who the real Hillary may be ... Perhaps it was the naming of Hillary in the text that was Sittenfeld’s undoing ... There is a notable absence of any significant unravelling of Hillary’s private interior motivations beyond what is already available from her own memoir ... A novel demands more from its characters in terms of complexity, internal conflict and evolution, and this version of Hillary is strangely devoid of that. Although Sittenfeld is brave enough to allow her fictional Hillary to make some unpalatable decisions, the careful ventriloquism deployed throughout is so safe that an intellectual, spirited woman often reads quite dull. And yet, Bill is presented as something of a monster. A charming, seductive one but a monster, nonetheless ... Presenting Hillary and Bill as a fictional version of themselves, as opposed to characters inspired by them, is problematic for a number of reasons. Not only is there the prevailing sense that Sittenfeld is writing with one hand held behind her back by the living, breathing presence of Hillary, the ethical quandary of fictionalising a woman’s life in her own time is very real ... It makes for uncomfortable reading being unable to distinguish between fact and fiction in particular while reading the first section on the couple’s emerging relationship... No-one has been vilified more by fake news than Hillary Clinton and it is a struggle to understand what benefit or enlightenment comes from further fictional assumptions being made about her, however well-intentioned. Perhaps the detailed sex scenes were an attempt to present the corporeal humanity of a woman so often accused of being cold, but in reality they are cringe-worthy to read and their portrayal feels tawdry instead of purposeful or grounding ... For many, this novel’s concept will prove irresistible and there is much to admire in Sittenfeld’s accomplished prose, but on this occasion, art imitating life just hasn’t rung true.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRELAND)... novels such as this powerful debut by American author Kiley Reid are integral to society’s understanding of nuanced race dynamics in our time ... Reid excels at dismantling the complicated relationship of mother, child and babysitter and holds the emotional labour of parenting up to the spotlight for fearless scrutiny ... One of the most powerful impacts of this novel is the poignant observation of the explicit but also sometimes more casual, implicit racial discrimination that happens every day and everywhere to people of colour ... The book is unsparing but never didactic in this regard—so masterful is the storytelling that these insights intersect seamlessly with the fast-paced plot, great wit and the scrutiny of the complex interplay between a cast of utterly compelling characters ... Reid is exceptional at recognising and delivering authentic details throughout a narrative that creates such vivid pictures of setting, time and place that every moment of the novel rings true
... In the end, Such a Fun Age delivers on the wave of excited hype that precedes it by offering the reader a book that hits the literary bullseye: a thrilling tour de force of humanity with something important to say. Something that we all need to hear.
RaveThe Irish Times (UK)Chevalier has built her career on an ability to delicately expose the ordinary human experience as a feat of extraordinary courage and beauty. It is now 20 years and 1.6 million book sales since Chevalier published Girl with a Pearl Earring, the book that set her career alight, but her commitment to salvaging lives from the footnotes of history and placing them at the centre of her storytelling remains unwavered. This novel illuminates the consequences of war through a voice that history has so often silenced, a single woman falling through the cracks of a society that struggles to perceive her value.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRELAND)As before, the narratives layer each other so the themes of poverty, shame, loneliness, motherhood, disappointment, love, grief and hope are deepened and reverberate throughout. By focusing a spotlight on the exquisite intimacies of these ordinary lives, Strout exposes the great universal themes of life with a laser precision that elevates the minutiae of their existences to something truly revelatory and extraordinary. It is not essential to have read Olive Kitteridge to appreciate Olive, Again as the work unquestionably stands alone, but, having done so will offer a deeper understanding of the later years of Olive’s life that are borne witness to in the second offering. Despite 10 years passing between both books, it is quite remarkable how seamless the transition is between them without any perceptible shift in tone or style. We find Olive exactly where we left her and you could finish Olive Kitteridge and begin Olive, Again a moment later without feeling like you’d missed a beat in her life. It is a testament to the incredible storytelling of Strout, the confident command she has over her work and the specific identity of a prose that is uniquely her own ... Strout never pulls any punches on the page and so we are confronted with the best and worst of the human condition, but always delivered with grace and empathy ... the cumulative effect of all this within the novel is to leave the reader with hope and a restored faith in the stubborn optimism and potential of the human heart.
PositiveThe Irish Times (UK)The hallmark of a Levy novel is an all-encompassing mood that infuses every page regardless of whether it contains evocative lush imagery or deep psychological probing – both elements are integrated seamlessly into one compelling voice that draws the reader in ... Once again, Levy has developed a narrative that scrutinises the interior world of her characters with laser-like precision and revealed it to us with subtle, grand design. If at times it becomes difficult to follow, that is precisely the point. Who can narrate their history with reliable memory? How can we trust any singular version of history? ... Levy’s prose is electrifying on the micro level and profound on the macro level; the novel bends time, subverts our expectations, and exposes blind spots with her usual sophisticated artistry. The questions it raises percolates long after the last page – how our carelessness will prove criminal to ourselves, how imperative it is that we confront our historical narratives and interrogate our sense of truth, the extent to which our futures are already written in the past. Levy throws balls in the air and steps aside to see how or if we can catch them; that is one of the great strengths of this novel but it is also the element that may frustrate readers who crave definitive answers.
RaveThe Irish TimesIf readers aren’t familiar with the first two Vogel novels, it is still entirely possible to read Reasons to Be Cheerful as a standalone, but for those who have followed the family’s previous misadventures in life, it is wonderful to see how their story has evolved. In particular, it is so pleasing to observe the development of the daughter of the family, and star of Paradise Lodge, the incomparable Lizzie Vogel ... What follows is a darkly comic account of one hapless teenager’s coming of age experiences that, although uniquely specific to her particular tiny patch of the world, still remain true to the universal adolescent experience ... Stibbe’s own love for her character radiates from the page. As a consequence, it always feels as if we are empathizing with her plight, laughing with her, and never at her ... Adele’s character is a comic creation with profound depth; her examination of what it means to be a mother, and a woman, while always raucous in its delivery, is nevertheless very moving. She offers a timely portrayal of questions that many women in the generations that followed her still face. As with all great comedy, amid the laughter there are beautifully drawn poignant moments that capture the sometimes bittersweet, often heartbreaking, realities of life ... Stibbe is masterful in her execution.