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.\