MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewDespite its author’s professional background, the novel’s relationship to history is notably loose and irreverent ... This is a book that, for better or worse, consistently prioritizes excitement and action over probability or fact ... The dialogue’s relentless profanity feels plausible enough, but this plausibility is weakened by Jones’s unfortunate attempts to add comedy to the mix ... The novel is at its most interesting in these later chapters, when it begins to consider larger questions about warfare and national mythology and becomes as a consequence a little less concerned with action and entertainment and a little more self-aware. Such thoughtful passages remain, however, only occasional ... Whether readers find Jones’s freewheeling approach to the past refreshing or troubling will largely depend, I suspect, on their sense of what fiction in general, and historical fiction in particular, is capable of.
Nathaniel Ian Miller
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... briskly entertaining ... The story of Sven’s mostly solitary existence as a trapper on Svalbard, which occupies the novel’s second half, is surprisingly engaging and fast-paced. Chapters are short and the action tends to be episodic with moments of high drama that rise and fall quite quickly ... Although there are some dark and violent moments, especially later on when Sven ventures into the town of Pyramiden, the overall tone is warm and gently comic. This tone is established and reinforced by Sven’s first-person narration, which has a tongue-in-cheek ornateness to it ... Filtered through such highfalutin and self-consciously literary language, even the moments of suffering never seem too raw, and the story, in consequence, although consistently enjoyable and often charming, does begin to feel, by the end, a little weightless.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewWhile there have been many previous books about the Franklin expedition and its mysterious fate, the notable originality of Ice Ghosts lies in the fact that it brings the story right up-to-date, covering not only the discovery of the Erebus in 2014, but also the discovery of the Terror, about 40 miles to the north, in 2016 ... The book moves up a gear, however, when Watson turns to the more recent past. Watson’s prose can be uneven sometimes, but he is at his vigorous best when describing places and people he has met and talked to. He provides sharp and entertaining portraits of the various Franklin obsessives whose experience and expertise fed into the 2008 initiative ... This book has some flaws. The style can be digressive and occasionally confusing, and I could have done without the more mystical passages concerning Louie Kamookak and the Inuit.
PositiveThe Financial Times...an engaging fantasia on US race relations, given added shape and momentum by the ongoing pursuit of Cora by a monomaniac slave-catcher named Ridgeway ... What we take away from The Underground Railroad is a sense that American racism is pervasive, fluid and persistent. If these ideas don’t always seem new, that should probably be taken as a sobering reminder of the stubbornness of the problems themselves rather than a sign of Whitehead’s lack of originality as a writer and thinker.
PositiveThe Financial TimesAlthough Proulx is clearly sympathetic to environmentalism, she is experienced and sophisticated enough as a writer to avoid mere preachiness ... [Barkskins] is enormously eventful, and the events it describes are often surprising and suggestive — but despite its old-fashioned size and scope, readers hoping for the immersive, plot-driven satisfactions of the great 19th-century novels are likely to be disappointed. Proulx is comfortable with loose ends and dangling plot lines, and even when she clearly sees an opportunity to bring events to a neat dramatic climax, as with the question of inheritance towards the end of the novel, she tends not to take it ... It is also, because it needs to cover so much ground, very, very quick. Characters are frequently introduced, developed and then killed off, all within a chapter or two. When this pacing works, it feels exciting, energetic and in keeping with the novel’s emphasis on the vast and disorienting changes brought about by European settlement. When it doesn’t work so well, it can feel too offhand and sketchy, as if depth is being sacrificed for breadth and speed ... Proulx aficionados, of which there are many, will still love it, but the less committed will probably find that its pleasures are mixed.