PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe method of this unusual work...is to peel away the veils of dissimulation, disguise and self-justification that conspire to make historical disasters appear as just the way things happen. While The Order of the Day has the rhythm and tenor of fiction, it is really a historical essay ... the author utilizes mundane facts or events, converting them by literary alchemy into gleaming pieces of a puzzle. From time to time, the author’s own voice breaks through, warning the reader against being duped ... The Vuillard tone, ironic, persistent, aggressive—at times merciless—is well caught in English by the translator Mark Polizzotti ... Mr. Vuillard has relied on a range of firsthand accounts of the events in question, and some readers might have welcomed a few source notes. But history as recitation—a tale told in a singular voice—can probably do without them.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalLeft Bank can be seen as the sentimental answer to Tony Judt’s Past Imperfect (1992), a solidly intellectual study of French thinkers between the years 1944 and 1956. Ms. Poirier scarcely tackles intellectual life at all ... The main strength of Left Bank is its political history, but Ms. Poirier lets Sartre off the hook too easily. He might have tried to establish a \'third way\' party in 1948, in the form of the Democratic and Revolutionary Alliance (it didn’t get far), but by 1954 he was justly seen as a Soviet stooge ... Left Bank is an enjoyable trip around the famous sites, even if it is a bit of a tourist trip.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalLike many a rural expedition, The Debatable Land has an engaging beginning, a stodgy middle in which we get bogged down and briefly lost, and a clearsighted finale. Few travel books focus on such a compressed region—the Debatable Land measures about 13 miles from tip to tip—and offer the reader so little personal feeling. I got more sense of Mr. Robb the explorer from his tracking of Rimbaud [in his previous book] than from The Debatable Land. His wife, having moved into the house, effectively disappears from the story. Locals surface from rain- and windswept fields to offer morsels of wisdom but are allowed to pass on without introduction. Mr. Robb’s companions are his theories, his bicycle, his books and his maps.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalA reader opening the book in expectation of an assortment of literary and social essays, in the manner of James Baldwin, John Updike or Gore Vidal, will be disappointed. In addition to the interviews, there is a scattering of brief memoirs and some appreciations, but Mr. Roth’s subject matter can be summed up as ‘My novels. And me.’ The sense of disappointment will not last long. Mr. Roth’s responses to interviewers are eloquent and free from inhibition … As well as being consistently intelligent and entertaining, Why Write? is a primary source.
MixedThe GuardianThe original typescript was more than twice the length of the finished book, which is probably still too long. A slow build-up is generally welcome in fiction, but Marlantes is not an experienced enough writer to keep the reader interested through 300 pages of dull routine, comradely joshing … But Marlantes trumps Hemingway in one essential respect: he experienced the heat of battle (Hemingway drove an ambulance in the first world war) and the aftershocks are vividly present in his narrative … The tedious ascent of Matterhorn might seem drawn out to some readers, but they should savour each moment, before the shooting starts.
David Foster Wallace
MixedThe Wall Street Journal[Wallace’s] final attempt at writing fiction, The Pale King, appears to have been part of a heroic effort to think about nothing. Or to control the ever-threatening information-flood while continuing to function—the way a graphomaniac might compile endless tables of statistics to ward off the dreadful alternative. Quite a lot of The Pale King is composed of statistics. It is the supreme example of purposeful boredom in literary form … There are almost 550 pages of wispy narrative threads, some of which show signs of what once seemed boundless linguistic and narrative gifts. The kindest way of looking at it is as an attempt at a cure, self-prescribed: For head-exploding brilliance, try boredom, the last-ditch remedy.
Ed. Nile Southern and Brooke Allen
PanThe Wall Street JournalTerry Southern was a writer of genuine talent, but the world of letters—a term he would have had fun parodying—did not spin fast enough for him to wish to practice his skills in it.