MixedThe Times (UK)Many boring passages about the sublime beauty of the elephants of the Okavango Delta, which I suspect most of his readers will skip ... If the fluency and efficiency of the writing is the work of JR Moehringer, the book’s ghost writer — who can congratulate himself on a job well done — the vivid, haunting detail must have come from Harry. He really feels it ... Although he claims to despise the intrusions of the press, Harry craves being the centre of attention ... Spare is loaded with trivial complaints and absurd perceived slights against his status ... Very often he sounds like the irritating little brother from hell ... It’s probably of great credit to William and Kate that, even in this hostile account, they come across as sweet and well-meaning people ... It seems clear that he was looking for an escape route, a way to blow up his coddled, caged panda bear life.
RaveThe Times (UK)Wulf’s delightful and invigorating book Magnificent Rebels — a worthy successor to her acclaimed study of von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature — is attentive to Jena’s social as well as its intellectual glitter. It is as much a novelettish portrait of disappointing soups, foundering marriages and professorial concert going as it is a panorama of what the poet Novalis described as the set’s ambition \'to romanticise the entire world\' ... tricked out with winning vignettes ... Wulf is a keener advocate of Fichte’s philosophy than previous cartographers of this rugged and chasmal intellectual terrain have been ... The journalistic efficiency of Wulf’s prose makes her a pleasingly downmarket chronicler of sexual adventure but also a sprightly exponent of, say, Kant’s categorical imperative...On literary matters . . . well, there is mention on one occasion of Goethe’s \'creative output\' ... The secret of Wulf’s achievement is in the “notes” at the end of Magnificent Rebels, a great wedge of a section so thick it brings the reader to an unexpected halt two thirds of the way through the book’s bulk. Magnificent Rebels is a triumph of unseen toil, hardly suspected by the reader, in the midst of the sociable whirl of the main narrative. But all the time you realise Wulf has been sweating away out of sight, in the dim caverns of archives and the flickering, unvisited galleries of notes and appendices ... Triumphantly, the book is not touched with one speck of archival dust, nor does it sag with any sign of exhaustion in the academic salt mines. The reader is simply presented with bright jewels of anecdote ... But above all the glitter of the parties, feuds and gossip that are so frequently inseparable from intellectual life. Ironically this book shows that philosophy is about more than the Ich, it is also about the \'we\'.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Katherine Rundell...is tempted to overexcitement ... Vigorous ... It is a forgivable tendency of evangelising critics to mistake the enthusiasm a poem inspires in them for a quality of the poetry itself ... It is a trap Rundell does not always dodge ... The greatest strength of Rundell’s book is the way she magics this world to life, making its intricacies and insanities comprehensible.
MixedThe Times (UK)In this dismayingly thorough second volume of his biography of the poet, Eliot: After The Waste Land, Robert Crawford digs through the drifts, heaping shovelfuls of speeches and honorary degrees on to the helpless reader...It is our privilege to witness the author of The Waste Land (1922) engaging in such scintillating activities as \'speaking at a . . . celebration in Chichester after his return from a short Spanish holiday\' and \'unveiling a plaque to Yeats\'...One of the most painful elements of Crawford’s book concerns Eliot’s \'sense of humour,\' which (in so far as it existed) suffered the twin deficiencies of being ponderous and racist...Eliot’s elephantine frivolities constituted a doomed attempt to escape his own seriousness, but also the tragedy of his personal life...He suffered \'a maddening feeling of failure and inferiority\'...Crawford’s criticism of Eliot’s poetry is characterised by a brevity that might have enlivened his narration of the dinners and speaking engagements...One’s eventual sense of Eliot is, I suppose, of a man not at home in the world...Like many poets, he was doomed to feel more intensely than other people, but Eliot’s feelings — his mystical longings and civilisational anguishes — were especially difficult to contain in a human mind and especially prone to alienate him from other inhabitants of the 20th century.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... eminently giftable ... Reading The Wordhord, I was surprised to find myself missing Old English poetry. This is a book about words: each one presented and dispatched with a brisk contextual explanation. A lot of these are, admittedly, enjoyably quaint ... To isolate so many of these words from their literary context and present them primarily as quirky linguistic factoids seems a bit of an impoverished way of approaching the language — and evidence perhaps of the book’s genesis as the Twitter account @OEWordhord, which tweets an Old English word of the day. So you’ll encounter Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon and Genesis A, but without much argument about why those poems are worth your time other than as sources of eccentric vocabulary. Although perhaps, as my 18-year-old former self might grumble, they are not worth your time at all ... most enjoyably there are the dirty riddles ... This is a book to be dipped in and out of for the riddles and enjoyable factoids...Learning for page after page that gar-leac is garlic, sunne is sun, sumer is summer, cild is child, mann is man and so on will try most readers’ patience. A good Christmas gift for somebody — although not perhaps for the dispirited English literature undergraduate in your life.
MixedThe Times (UK)\"A strange aspect of Lucasta Miller’s new book on Keats is her idea that the poet is not only masculine, but perhaps toxically so ... Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph is a readable guide to the poet’s life ... The book is organised around nine of Keats’s poems (all printed in full), a nice idea, but the project is hamstrung by Miller’s insistence on striking fashionable poses ... A more persistent theme is Miller’s endeavour to discover a ruder, sexier, blokier Keats ... To march a troop of note-taking moral policemen through Madeline’s \'high and triple-arch’d\' casement with its glowing stained glass and \'lustrous salvers\' is a strange and unsympathetic thing for a critic to do. The temptation (never perhaps more irresistible than it is today) to judge art by moral criteria is always a dangerous one, but in this instance especially. Miller’s approach ignores the poem’s essential character: its atmosphere of fantasy, of over-ripe daydreaming ... Miller is astute about the curious ambivalence of Keats’s love affair with Brawne ... [Miller\'s] impoverished view of literature risks reducing it to just another branch of the social sciences and is prevalent in academia at the moment. If Keats’s poems (his \'literary artefacts\', as Miller occasionally terms them) are chiefly interesting merely as historical evidence for the lifestyles of young men at the beginning of the 19th century, then I suppose questions of whether he was toxically masculine do seem interesting.
MixedThe Times (UK)Confused ... The matter is kept vague and the reader is left to guess that she believes (as all too many do) that there is some sort of mystical force guiding history towards the triumph of her personal convictions ... O’Neil seems relieved to discover (or invent) this concept of \'healthy shame\' because it lets her off having to worry about cancel culture (which in fashionable circles is held not to exist). This healthy shaming can be recognised because it always \'punches up\'. Presumably the relevant power differences will always be clearly legible and the moral issues at stake never remotely ambiguous ... O’Neil’s awkward faith that enormous social media companies might have a role in social progress is odd in the context of a book that devotes many of its pages to the big corporations that, O’Neil says, shame us for our fatness, smelliness, ugliness and poverty to make us spend money on products we don’t need. I agree with her regarding those corporations, although I think the present orgies of public shaming represent a phenomenon unprecedented in recent history ... To me, this seems a crude and even reactionary vision of how to advance moral progress. It would not have been difficult to condemn it more confidently. I ended by feeling that this book on public shaming had been hamstrung by a fear of . . . public shaming.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Hadley is our great novelist of bourgeois domesticity, minutely sensitive to its emotional perturbations and as devotedly attentive to its gorgeous solidity — its fabrics and glassware — as a Flemish painter of the 15th century ... It is gratifying, then, to discover that in Free Love Hadley has chosen to range against the cosy and solidly domestic all the hairy, panting, idealistic forces unleashed by that supremely undomesticated decade, the 1960s ... Phyllis’s kitchen is much more real than her hazily associated ideas about the environment and the bomb. And here perhaps is this beautiful and exciting novel’s flaw. If the point (a compelling one) is that even in the intellectual tumult of the 1960s, all the grand ideas are doomed to founder into froth and foam when they crash into the littleness of everyday human life, then the apparent power of the 1960s over the domestic is hard to credit. The characters are supposedly motivated by ideas, but it’s never quite convincing.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Jonathan Franzen writes marvellous novels and indifferent sentences. Some of the sentences in his new book, Crossroads, are worse than indifferent. The novel, fortunately, is marvellous enough to propel the reader past phrases of truly gruesome infelicity almost without qualm. Things are going so fast and you’re having so much fun that you comprehend the prose only as a blur of kerbside scenery. Who cares that the hard shoulder is littered with maimed syntax, broken rhythms and multi-car pile-ups of cliché? Your eyes are fixed on the vividly unspooling road ahead ... has the quality Franzen’s readers most lust after: hypnotic narrative motion ... I like to imagine that, just as blindness and deafness are supposed to enhance the other senses, Franzen’s impaired prose faculty means he has had to learn to accomplish through plot what other novelists achieve through description or exposition. In this book more than any other we know his characters by their actions and desires, not by the author’s careful accounts of their wry smiles and secret birthmarks. The result is that everything is always moving ... Some characters — fortunately, mostly minor — are lifeless and this is generally because Franzen has attempted to describe them ... it is in Franzen’s capacity to manage interconnecting relationships on an extraordinary scale that his genius lies. The terrain is wide and it is rough ... That all this is supposed to provide a mirror to our time is obvious. That it works so subtly and so well is down to how Franzen never sermonises or explains, but simply shows. And what he is able to show is formidable: the hypnotic spectacle of more than 100 characters in frantic, intricate motion. No polemic, no academic paper could produce such a complex and precise account of the disturbing proximity of moral goodness to self-righteousness and egotism ... It should be re-emphasised that underneath all this brilliance the prose is bad in the boring ways prose tends to be bad. It is clichéd ... Does this matter? The critic Harold Bloom once described another great white male, John Updike, as a minor writer with a major style. Franzen is a major writer with a minor style. Crossroads shows that this is at least a highly readable thing to be.
RaveThe Times (UK)Near the beginning of Sally Rooney’s beautiful and serious new novel there is a subdued but irresistible moment of comedy ... . It is the tragedy (and occasionally the absurdity) of Rooney’s characters to understand and care so deeply for the things that matter—art, love, the condition of the human soul under consumer capitalism—that they are doomed to respond to the everyday world with a kind of mournful, disaffected irony ... for 337 pages (more space than any previous Rooney protagonists have been granted) these characters must work out how to love each other and how to live. Much of that work is done in the series of essayistic emails between Eileen and Alice. In these you sense Rooney’s powerful and subtle intelligence moving beneath the surface ... If this sounds super-refined and disembodied, the novel also contains some of the most explicit sex scenes Rooney has written ... Some readers will object that the emails and the sex scenes are typical of a novelist who prefers her characters when they are thinking or feeling intensely to when they are interacting with the world in its trashy, trivial detail ... This is precisely the argument twisting beneath the novel’s surface. How much of ordinary life can a novel let in without dissolving into meaninglessness? ... these anxieties sound trite and boring ... Rooney, though, approaches each of her problems with a passionate honesty that means her conclusions about life and art feel hard-won and precious.Beautiful World, Where Are You operates on the reader with a kind of rebuking seriousness: are you living properly? Do you care deeply enough about the most important things? The book moved me to tears more than once. For all its structural oddness,Beautiful World, Where Are You is Rooney’s best novel.
Jordan B Peterson
MixedThe Times (UK)YouTube is where [Peterson] flourishes: his charisma, authority and dazzling spontaneous intellect make his video lectures addictive. His prose is the opposite of addictive: repetitious, unvariegated, rhythmless, opaque and possessed of a suffocating sense of its own importance. It is a style that relies on readers knowing the author’s voice and supplying the cadences themselves ... Ideas that flit and glimmer in Peterson’s videos look bloated and dead when strapped to the page. The problem, I think, is that the internet favours personalities and Peterson is famous because of his personality, which is compelling, not because of his philosophy, which is bonkers. Curiously, though, the bonkers philosophy is the foundation for rules that are often anticlimactically sensible ... It may help to think of him as a lifestyle influencer as much as a philosopher ... That said, I tend to believe that society needs to be prodded by bonkers, renegade intellectuals such as Peterson (reading the new book you notice how much he has in common with bonkers renegade intellectual extraordinaire Camille Paglia). So long as employees at Penguin burst into tears on learning that the company is publishing Peterson’s latest book, or a lecturer at a Canadian university is reprimanded for showing a class one of Peterson’s videos it is clear that there is a strain of closed-minded liberal complacency that will only benefit from being rubbed up the wrong way. It does not follow that we are required to take his thinking seriously ... in many respects reads like a more chaotic rewrite of 12 Rules for Life ... nails together shower thoughts, random prejudices and genuine insights into a decidedly rickety structure ... Harry Potter, the Bible, Egyptian myths and Sumerian legends are polished into flattering mirrors for the Jordan Peterson view of the meaning of life, which, unsurprisingly, is just the sort of pessimistic heroic individualism you might expect from a baby boomer who grew up in remote Canada in the 1970s reading too much Nietzsche ... You notice quite soon that for Peterson almost every myth or story is valued according to how easily it can be bent to his philosophical will ... characterised by the same atmosphere of grinding undifferentiated portentousness you get in big-budget superhero movies where the plot is almost incomprehensible, but every fight is a fight to the death and requires inevitable, endless, wearying CGI explosions.
John Cooper Clarke
RaveThe Times (UK)Clarke’s hyper-consciousness of what’s cool is gleefully self-deprecating ... For someone who is nowadays seen as a curiosity, it’s a surprise to be reminded what a relatively mainstream figure Clarke was ... He is capable of moments of real loveliness as well as comedy ... you’d rather such emotional avoidance than the poor me-whining of many celebrity memoirs ... Basically, I Wanna Be Yours is fantastically entertaining. The only vice it shares with conventional rock star autobiography is its formlessness, a tendency to the undifferentiated recitation of events — which hotel I stayed in, which theatre I played, what my agents said to me. But Clarke’s life was so uninterruptedly interesting, you don’t mind ... As a writer of comic prose Clarke is the match of anyone alive, and his turns of phrase are as sharp as his suits ... His drawl is as much a part of his peculiar ars poetica as the words of the poems themselves. Every sentence he writes, you read in his voice. By the end of the nearly 500 pages of I Wanna be Yours I felt I’d not so much read a memoir as listened to an outrageous confession from a psychoanalyst’s couch.
RaveThe Times (UK)Predictably, this new account of what cats can teach us about how to live corresponds closely with what the philosopher John Gray has been teaching us about how to live for the past few decades. Although his previous works contain occasional hints about what he considers to be the good life, this is his most direct pounce at the subject. If, like me, you consider him to be one of the most important thinkers alive, you will be eager to know what he has to say (although you can probably guess at the book’s thrust) ... The book is full of anecdotes about various loveable and impressive cats, but they are most compelling to the reader (well, this reader) as symbols of a life lived without illusions. And you know Gray: whenever he sees someone clinging to an illusion he goes and stamps on their fingers ... In our pious age his attack on the cheap solace of moral convictions is invigorating ... It’s a mark of the book’s subtlety that you’re not quite sure how seriously to take him.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... Wilson’s fascinating history of cities, Metropolis, lacks a central thesis (its only significant flaw), but it’s not hard to supply one: cities intensify life ... In construction, Wilson’s book is more rambling east London than centrally planned Haussmann Paris. His progress is roughly chronological and the only reliable theme is that with each chapter the cities get bigger. By the final chapter we’ve reached megacities that are so enormous they are changing the course of nature ... Wilson is cheery by the book’s final pages.
Witold Szablowski, Trans. By Antonia Lloyd-Jones
MixedThe Times (UK)Szablowski’s entertaining book about the chefs of five murderous dictators never quite escapes the realm of whimsy. Szablowski has travelled the world seeking out the chefs of despots. He lets them speak for themselves in narratives that run for pages at a time ... Unfortunately, since dictators were generally fond of their chefs, the memories are unsettlingly positive ... The limitations of Szablowski’s book are summarised by Ali, who tells him: \'A cook isn’t involved in politics. There’s no country where the president asks his cook if he can start a war\' ... Mostly, it’s hard to read much into the favourite foods of Szablowski’s dictators ... Dictator’s stomachs offer few clues to their souls. But that doesn’t stop this epically well-researched book being a lot of fun to read. Just enjoy it with a pinch of salt.
RaveThe Times (UK)This excellent, intellectually rousing book is about the young poet. This is Wordsworth the dreamy, serious radical glimpsed flying across frozen lakes on his skates, or marvelling at revolutionary Paris, or falling in love ... Coleridge brightens every page he bounces on to ... We catch charming glimpses of the friendship. Wordsworth striding into Coleridge’s cottage and...laughing at Coleridge’s jokes and showing him off to new admirers ... The radicalism most interesting to modern readers is Wordsworth’s pioneering exploration of the self—Bate makes repeated comparisons to Freud.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Alex’s life is a remarkable lesson in what egotism, charm and force of will can achieve against the incoming tides of history ... House of Glass is pacily told — in fact, it’s probably the only recent biography I’ve found myself wishing was a bit more self-indulgent. I would have loved a more colourful picture of Jewish bohemian life in Paris, for example. But Freeman provides a moving and frightening picture of the ways ordinary fates are mangled by the machinery of politics, war and hate. It should be read by anybody who believes history is an abstraction.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Wiener wants to do for the techy California of the 2010s what Joan Didion did for the hippy California of the 1960s. She wants to clasp the soul of the age. I liked the book a lot and raced through it, but Wiener is no Didion ... In Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the psychedelic lift of Didion’s prose helped it to soar with the surreal spirit of the age. Uncanny Valley offers no equivalent; no eerie, alien digital style. Instead we’re in an analogue world of comfortable cliché...Still, she harvests details conscientiously ... Read this book and be afraid.
RaveThe Times (UK)This survey of end-times obsessives, from climate scientists to conspiracy theorists, may strike some readers as unnecessarily close for comfort ... It turns out that the prospect of the annihilation of human life is a richer mine of comedy than you probably supposed ... The variety of end-of-the-world scenarios that O’Connell confronts is sobering ... The rough and faintly random material gathered in O’Connell’s \'notes\' is bound together by his brilliant comic style. To get a handle on his cerebral, neurotic persona it might help to imagine a cross between Bill Bryson and David Foster Wallace ... Anxiety, you’ll have gathered, is O’Connell’s natural element ... He is richly scathing of the eschatology-evading comforts purchased by the billionaires buying up land in New Zealand ... a fidgety, fretful but very funny book.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... a readable and frequently fascinating guide to the benefits of sunlight ... Geddes’s lovely book will fill you with longing for bright summer days, blue skies and a baking hot sun dispensing vitamin D and happiness to all who bask in its glow. Roll on, summer!
MixedThe Times (UK)\"Greatness, Ben Lerner has decided, must not be approached lightly. His two previous novels...were fizzy, ironic jeux d’esprits. Lerner never stopped rolling his eyes at himself even as he frolicked in the prismatic spume of postmodern self-indulgence — 10:04 is the funniest novel about writing a novel you’ll read. But the new book is serious. It has themes. Big ones: Trump, toxic masculinity, the nature of human speech.
The Topeka School is anxious to become a great American novel ... The book is elegant, readable and delightfully clever, but it is filled with anxiety. It’s a novel with a knot in its stomach. In the early funny books Lerner could laugh away his self-consciousness, his niggling worries about why anyone would bother writing a novel at all ... Lerner worries away at his themes, willing them fretfully into life. A little laughter might have helped this serious, pleather-clad tome get closer to the greatness it so anxiously yearns for.\
Jonathan Safran Foer
PositiveThe Times (UK)... thoughtful (albeit anguished) ... His last book, Eating Animals, championed vegetarianism principally on the grounds of ethics. This one makes the case on environmental grounds. It’s convincingly done ... Compared with wacky ideas such as geoengineering, Foer’s solution is a boring one: vegetarianism. Foer is a passionate advocate. Sometimes off-puttingly so ... \'Come on mate,\' I wanted to say, patting him consolingly on the shoulder. \'I know you’re a New York liberal, but please stop beating yourself up like this\'.
RaveThe Times (UK)... dazzling ... Before I read this book I was something of a Wordswortho-sceptic. But Nicolson is one of the most persuasive advocates of his genius I have read. The Making of Poetry brings the poetry to life, but also the countryside—Nicolson spent a lot of time living around Stowey to write this book and it has paid off brilliantly. He is helped along by Tom Hammick’s beautiful illustrations; charmingly some of the woodcuts are made with wood gathered from the garden at Alfoxden.
RaveThe Times (UK)...[a] fascinating book ... It’s a much more interesting tale than it sounds. Bear in mind that not a single complete manuscript survives from the ancient world. Endless rolling and unrolling made brittle papyrus scrolls prone to falling apart. All we have from classical antiquity is a handful of pathetic fragments ... The book’s early Islamic sections are the most exciting. Moller brings the wonders of the medieval Muslim empires vividly to life and you’re left yearning for more (who couldn’t long to know about the city of Nisbis, described in passing as a \'city of white roses, wine and scorpions\'). By the time she moves into Christendom, things feel more prosaic, and the idea of looking at seven cities means the structure can feel stop-start: a city rises, flourishes and is destroyed, then the next one does the same. Fortunately, Moller’s talent for historical colour keeps things lively.
RaveThe Times (UK)Tolentino says the essays in [Trick Mirror] are \'more baggy\' than the stuff she’s allowed to write in The New Yorker. Sometimes that bagginess gives her room to produce the best stuff she has yet written, but there are also some meandering pieces that struggle to fill out the extra space. Trick Mirror contains two dazzling jewels, each one worth the price of the book on its own. The first is Reality TV Me ... Tolentino is magnificent on the ways that these self-conscious and egotistical young people performed their personalities at the camera — an eerie intimation of the way we all behave in the age of Instagram ... To find this aching lyricism at the heart of a banal pop-culture artefact such as a reality TV show is characteristic of Tolentino ... I love Tolentino best when she’s lyrical and there’s more in that vein in the collection’s second jewel, Ecstasy, an essay that riffs on Tolentino’s teenage religious experiences in a Houston megachurch...and her later love affair with the drug Ecstasy. A gorgeous description of wading through a swimming pool, high on cough syrup, listening to distant hip-hop filled me with the urge to head to Boots and bulk-buy Calpol ... However, the collection isn’t always this strong — how could it be? ...Nertheless, when she is good, she is better than anyone. Her position as the pre-eminent genius of the millennial intellectuals is assured.
PositiveThe TimesHiromi Kawakami writes the sort of novels you can love for their atmosphere alone. Her characters lead attractively unelaborate lives and are united in their attitude of equable epicureanism ...That’s the distinctive Kawakami atmosphere. It’s the reason for her cult following ...The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino, will satisfy aficionados ... Pinned down on the page of a newspaper, The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino risks sounding creepy. This slight book’s beguiling and beautiful mystery is best left for readers to discover by themselves.
PanThe Times (UK)This stuff clearly lends itself to the sort of treatment Hall is attempting. Unfortunately, her book lacks conviction, or a sense of intellectual excitement ... this is, on the whole, a rather pooterish account of Aristotle’s philosophy. Her book bathetically fails to live up to its ambitious subtitle, How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life ... I longed for new, ambitious thought. But all too often Hall serves up platitudes ... feels like the work of someone filling out her publisher’s word count ... There is a great defence of eudaimonia to be written. This isn’t it.
Walter Kempowski, Trans. by Charlotte Collins
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"Homeland is less ambitious than All for Nothing, Kempowski’s previous novel to be translated into English ... Nevertheless, it is a superb minor-key performance. Kempowski’s stylish prose evokes an atmosphere of serene normality, which is craftily punctured every so often. This novel asks whether there can really be anything normal about a society that murdered six million Jews only a few decades previously.\
Roberto Bolano, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
MixedThe Times (UK)\"... an interesting, but by no means essential addition to the Bolaño canon ... This novel feels unfinished — it is more a series of impressions than a coherent narrative. While that’s probably partly design, I suspect it’s also down to the way it was pieced together out of Bolaño’s archive. The best of these impressions is the book’s extraordinary, dream-like final section in which Remo and Laura go to a dubious bath house ... Hardcore Bolaño fans will want to get their hands on The Spirit of Science Fiction. However, if you have not read him before, you would be better off starting with his brilliant 1998 novel The Savage Detectives...\
RaveThe Times UKMy proof copy of Sally Rooney’s new novel, Normal People, is so battered and bashed about that it’s almost unreadable now. Since I got my hands on it about three months ago it has been almost constantly on loan to a succession of friends and acquaintances — even the ones who never normally read contemporary fiction. When they’ve read it, it’s all they want to talk about. It’s all I want to talk about too. How brilliant to feel so excited about a new novel.
PositiveThe TimesTallis’s book will interest anyone who wants to know what makes people tick. And you’ll pick up some handy tips ... Tallis is candid about the challenges he faces as an analyst too ... The Incurable Romantic earns its place in the fine tradition of popular psychoanalytic writing, exemplified by Irvin D Yalom’s excellent book of case studies, Love’s Executioner. Although Tallis never quite matches Yalom’s intimidating powers of perception, he is an amiable and acute guide to the madness of love.
PanThe TimesAnna Burns’s novel Milkman, which won the Man Booker prize this week, is a tough read ... mainly because of its wilfully inelegant prose style. Prepare for repetition, circumlocution and paragraphs stretching over pages (plus the fact that none of the characters has a name) ... This could all have been said much more snappily. The novel has been called \'experimental,\' but Burns’s laboured stream-of-consciousness prose doesn’t depart radically from the century-old tradition of literary modernism ... By picking Milkman as the winner of the Man Booker prize, the judges have confirmed the recent tendency to see novels as status-markers rather than joyful, life-changing entertainments ... the view from the top of Mount Milkman is pretty cloudy.
MixedThe Times...this is a book about atmosphere and style. Robertson’s characters talk to each other in tough, hard-boiled cliché, but in its all-too-frequent descriptive passages the poem allows itself to become more lyrical ... Unfortunately, Robertson is stuck in the default mode of contemporary poetry, which is fond of arbitrary line breaks and doesn’t have much truck with rhyme or metre ... There are some lovely, accomplished short poems buried in The Long Take.
PositiveThe TimesA Long Island Story is an acute portrait of the uneasiness and claustrophobia of family life ... Gekoski is skilled at characterisation and he has great fun playing with his readers’ sympathies ... Unfortunately, A Long Island Story lacks the comic shading of [his first novel], Darke ... The book also lacks the vivifying spark of originality that made Darke something well out of the ordinary ... His second novel is impeccably sharp about people and engrossingly readable.
MixedThe TimesWe live in an age of giants. The largest animals to have lived are not dinosaurs, or woolly mammoths, or saber- toothed tigers. They are whales. Right now, you are sharing the planet with the most enormous animal to have existed: the blue whale ... If you don’t care about whales, you should still read Spying on Whales. I didn’t give two hoots about them last week, but after reading Pyenson’s book, I’m obsessed. Pyenson writes engagingly — although he is slightly over-fond of the scene-setting purple passages that are almost obligatory in popular nonfiction nowadays. He is also guilty of some fairly lame jokes ... Nevertheless, this is a lively survey of the past, present and future of these magnificent animals, which includes enough of Pyenson’s scientific adventures to make you feel that you have a vague sense of what’s going on at the cutting-edge of cetacean science. Great stuff. Save the whales!
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
PanThe Times\"The book is the second of four collections of letters written by Knausgaard to his unborn daughter, explaining . . . well, mostly explaining the bleeding obvious. In Winter, he ruminates pointlessly on stuffed animals, sexual desire and ears (among many other things). Even the little Knausgaard foetus probably found herself rolling her eyes at some of her dad’s more extravagant banalities ... Winter fails because it lacks specificity. Unmoored from the details of his life, he flails.\