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.