RaveThe Guardian (UK)Reading this slender, rich exploration of what it means to cook for others is like pulling up a chair at the ideal dinner party. The food is mouth-watering – creamy curries, candied baobab seeds, fat slices of homemade pizza – but just as nourishing is the conversation, which embraces hospitality in its many guises, from the strained welcome received by Syrian refugees in the author’s adoptive Germany to the langar, a free meal served in Sikh temples ... Add a pinch of Derrida and a slug of retro pop culture, and you’ve got an irresistible amuse-bouche.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)An immersive, discursive chronicle of a family’s reconfiguration following the death of its patriarch...and an otherworldly chord resonates through portions of its narrative ... Despite its bulk, this is a novel that doesn’t so much sprawl as scamper, at times darting purposefully off in the direction of a deadpan comedy of manners, a courtroom drama, a philosophical enquiry into the nature of art. It also provides a timely as well as damning snapshot of race relations and police brutality in the US ... There is much to relish in Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars., from its nimble pace to exuberant set pieces. As a portrait of a family and a nation, it’s funny and tragic and sometimes bleak. Indeed, if there’s fault to be found it’s simply that the novel reads like multiple books in one, and, inevitably, some of its narrative strands get passed over too quickly. This is particularly true of the sections dealing with police racism and its fallout. Though they’re vividly rendered, in order for the novel to hang together as a whole they must ultimately be subsumed by the overarching narrative, that all-American quest for self-realisation. In this case, the self-realisation of privileged white people. Given the intense topicality conferred by George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests, it makes for an uncomfortable juxtaposition.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)Gothic horror provides the architecture for an arrestingly strange melange of speculative fiction and teen trauma in this atmospheric debut novel ... Ines’s apathy can drag but nibbling menace spurs the plot onwards.
Emma Jane Unsworth
RaveThe Observer (UK)Emma Jane Unsworth’s virtuoso new novel is far too canny to convey anything so gauche as a \'message\', but if it did, it would be this: step away from your screen ... Adults is a tale rich in keenly observed relationships – between mothers and daughters, best friends and boyfriends, idols and rivals – yet its central, inseparable pairing is that of thirtysomething heroine Jenny and her phone. Theirs is a supremely dysfunctional affair ... Daffy one-liners, trenchant satire, misadventure of the laugh/cry variety – the narrative pops with all of the above as it parses everything from selfhood to attraction ... Though she’s a dauntingly able all-rounder ... it’s as a comedic writer that Unsworth sparkles, and her quickfire wit synthesises perfectly with her theme in Adults, mimicking the relentless pace of the internet. Yet like the very best of her kind, she creates a world complex enough that in the echoes of our laughter are also relatability, wistfulness, even hope. All are present in this novel’s satisfying close.
RaveThe Observer (UK)... [a] standout first novel ... There’s something a touch too tidy about the way Alix’s character develops, and it’s true that the plot pivots on an almighty coincidence. All the same, Reid writes with a confidence and verve that produce magnetic prose, and she’s a whiz at dialogue, whether it’s the African-American vernacular that Emira slips into with her girlfriends or Briar’s bold toddler-talk ... While race dominates, Reid is far too engaged a writer to let it define a narrative that has equally incisive observations to share about everything from maternal ambivalence to dating mores and dining fads. Hypocrisy and forgiveness get a look in, and in some respects, this is a novel that’s as much about money and class as anything. All in all, it’s a cracking debut – charming, authentic and every bit as entertaining as it is calmly, intelligently damning.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)Uniting the two eras are the challenges that come with womanhood (this is a novel with zero memorable male characters). Both marriage and motherhood are portrayed as threats to the female self, and it’s Connie – mercurial and imposing, yes, but also single and childless – who comes to dominate the story even as age weakens her. That she’s capable of shocking callousness makes her all the more interesting. While Burton resists easy conclusions, calling out the perverse comfort that’s to be had from abandonment and the myriad other ways in which a lover’s hurt can justify shabby behaviour, she does have a weakness for treacly dialogue ... It’s one of relatively few flaws in an absorbing, intelligent piece of storytelling that succeeds in sustaining its mystery to the end.
RaveThe Observer (UK)You’ll hear echoes of the estimable Barbara Pym as Violet’s heels clip across the cathedral’s inner close. Allusions to casual sex and lesbian passion notwithstanding, days are punctuated by cups of tea and people remain largely trapped by their manners. At one particularly stirring moment, instead of finding herself kissed, Violet is treated to a three-course meal ... It’s a time and a place that is perfectly suited to Chevalier’s meticulous scene-setting, gentle pacing and gimlet eye for hidden hurts and secret longings. As for the embroidery, with its repetitive stitches that slowly, almost inconspicuously add up to something dazzling, she couldn’t have picked a more satisfying metaphor. After all, Violet and her fellow broderers are women building not only themselves, but the very idea of independent single womanhood in a world that does its best to ignore their existence.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... profound, moving and consistently unexpected ... Iris is a difficult, brilliantly realised character, and one whom the author never judges ... a book that embraces class, desire, race, gender, ambition and tragedy, all with exemplary subtlety. The word \'margarine\', for instance, conveys a world of socioeconomic differences; the fierceness with which a baby latches on contains all the seeds of a complex mother-daughter relationship ... pure poetry, filled with incantatory repetitions, soaring cadences, burnished images. There is laughter and spirit, \'fire and ash and loss\', blocks of gold hidden beneath squeaky stairs. It’s a story laden with stories, too. As Sabe says, \'If a body’s to be remembered, someone has to tell its story.\' Woodson does just that, weaving a narrative whose specificity yields an undeniable universality. We grownups have been missing out.
MixedThe Observer (UK)...a grim portrait of what it means to be doubly disenfranchised as a female illegal immigrant in an oppressively patriarchal community ... In the acknowledgments of this absorbing if imperfect exploration of the transactional bargains that women are forced to strike is a plea for film and photographic footage of New York’s Dominican community from the 1950s to the 1980s. The kind of colour that such an archive might yield is precisely what’s missing from the narrative. While its Dominican sections evoke skin that tastes of the ocean, a place where the ground is strewn with ripe apricots and radios fill the air with song, in the main it could be set almost any time, any place. There are moments, too, when the dialogue seems jarringly anachronistic.
A K Benjamin
RaveThe ObserverThe eight lines that preface Let Me Not Be Mad slice straight to the singed, fast-beating heart of a mental-health memoir like no other ... Benjamin is kinetic company, his rangy intelligence matched with a fondness for rarefied locution (he can never resist a \'lickerish\' mouth) and indelible images ... The book’s second half fuses an alarming, increasingly claustrophobic psychodrama with irresistibly sharp cultural commentary that makes even greying bugbears such as listicles and the misuse of the word \'literally\' seem fresh ... this is a text that constantly interrogates the very act of narrativisation, together with its limitations and the tricks that our minds play on us with it ... a wild, genre-defying wake-up call of a book.
PositiveThe Observer\"...a polished and harrowing debut novel ... These distinct narratives are equally convincing. Both have been extensively researched....yet that learning is worn lightly, and Barr shifts between two very different tones with a light touch, maintaining a subtle emotional intelligence throughout. There are moments of almost shocking drollery, too...Meanwhile, the harsh poetry of the land anchors the text, its red earth stretching out beneath starlit stillness, unchanging from generation to generation ... Homophobic violence overshadows the brutal closing section of You Will Be Safe Here but it’s the connections between then and now that make it so devastating ... By its end, so many instinctive responses will have been upturned that the reader will be left with just two certainties: that the circularity of man’s cruelty to his fellow human beings is endless, and that only kindness is stronger.
RaveThe ObserverOften, the story we start out reading turns out to be a feint, yet none of this tips over into tricksiness. Whether they’re focused on the racism that’s inherent in a certain kind of charity or the complications of dual heritage identity, these are all urgent, intimate narratives, framed as confessions and quests, and edged with quickening threat. Everything that is good can be ruptured with as little as a single accidental touch, \'quiet as two lips parting\', and despite his great feeling for beauty and grace, Brinkley is unafraid to probe the ugliest lows of human behaviour ... Throughout, there’s an enigmatic quality to his prose that makes the sharpness of his observations still more dazzling ... These nine near-faultless stories are laden with similarly pocketable treasures, not only heralding the arrival of a fully formed, entirely distinctive new voice but reinvigorating the short story itself. In the end, there’s no doubt who the lucky ones are: we, the readers.
RaveThe Guardian...a smart, shimmering study of youthful self-discovery and the power of place ... There’s an extent to which any coming-of-age novel – any novel, full stop – set in New York City is treading ground already so mythologised, so narrativised, that it is impossible to make it feel real. Hoby nods to this ... while it resists narrative neatness, the book’s prose is impressively precise, glinting with pocketable images and insights.
MixedThe Seattle TimesThough technically Olivier's servant, Parrot is almost twice his age and infinitely more wise about the world; his first impressions of ‘Lord Migraine’ are hardly flattering. Olivier, in turn, regards his uppity servant with appalled fascination, complaining to his mother in shipboard letters that Parrot himself takes on dictation. Their relationship develops into what Hollywood would call a ‘bromance,’ yet this agile and almost too facile novel aspires to be more than just the tale of an odd couple … Thematically, this is an aptly restless novel, touching on forgery, exile and loyalty before settling on the question of whether art can flourish in a democracy. Olivier, like Tocqueville, fears not. Parrot, who becomes the publisher of a folio of prints of American birds, disagrees … For all its madcap energy and playful accomplishments, the novel lacks the dark shadows that make the best comedies truly memorable.