RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Silverview, the final completed novel by the master of spy fiction, John le Carré, arrives 10 months after his passing, like light from a dead star to illuminate nothing less than the slippery nature of truth and the very concept of loyalty ... In many ways Silverview is a fitting conclusion to the long career of a writer who redefined an entire genre with the deceptive ease of pure genius ... In this final work le Carré has lost none of what made him remarkable: here are characters operating at the very limits of their own endurance, confronting fundamental truths that have the disturbing quality of prophecy ... The novel is exquisitely poised in the present moment, set in a flat Fenland scarred with relics of past conflicts, facing a sea that threatens to sweep all away ... In this concise, tightly focused novel, every reference has weight ... illed with joy in the resilience of the human spirit, and with love. Le Carré’s compassion for his characters shines through, along with the gleam of humour. It’s also deeply thrilling, in the best way: old spies resurrecting their tradecraft, younger men discovering whether or not they can trust their instincts, a multiplicity of small betrayals and one or two grand sacrifices ... It’s not a perfect book (if such a thing exists) – some of the characterisation feels stereotypical ... We had more from John le Carré than we had any right to expect: we can be grateful for what he left us.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)... oddly disapproving, compelling ... Even if he is suspicious about Highsmith’s every word, Bradford seems happy to accept the opinions of nameless strangers, such as the psychiatrist who decided Highsmith was a psychopath because of the expression on her face. At the time she was sitting in the hall outside a party, alone and humiliated, after a disastrous attempt to socialise with English bohemians in the 1960s. Sympathy for her, here and elsewhere, is lacking from this biography ... The other thing missing is Highsmith’s own voice. Brief synopses of the books convey only the basic plots, which seem flat and unconvincing ... What you don’t get here is any sense of the charm she must have possessed to seduce so many women (and an occasional man) ... Bradford rightly points out that many of those who admire her as a lesbian icon would be horrified by the real woman. This book is a valuable corrective to more unquestioning portrayals of her ... What’s lacking is any sense of empathy, as if the sins of Highsmith’s later life cancel out her earlier achievements ... It’s hard to see why Bradford’s Highsmith deserves a biography, sceptical as he is about her literary merit and her personal morals. You have to guess at her talent and charm from the shadows they cast across this book, a work as dark as anything Highsmith herself ever wrote.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)It takes a certain audacity to write a novel that tips its hat so mischievously to the most celebrated Victorian novelist, but Paraic O’Donnell has more than enough talent to get away with it ... there is no trace of difficult-second-novel nerves in this accomplished historical mystery ... tightly constructed ... There is a breath of the supernatural in the plotting of this book, but it’s to O’Donnell’s credit that he doesn’t rely on ghostly happenings to explain or resolve his plot. Instead, there is absolute logic to what people do and why. Even so, the supernatural elements are taken seriously. Often, spiritualism is played for laughs but a seance here is genuinely chilling. There is a sense, at times, of pure evil at work ... The plot zips along, tension rising as the investigation draws towards Vesper Sands and a series of revelations that touch on issues of class, mistreatment of women, power and privilege. But O’Donnell doesn’t break off to moralise. The pace never drops. Nor does he get bogged down in world-building, the fatal flaw for so many historical novelists. The setting is impeccably evoked but in glimpses, as the reader is taken by the elbow and hurried through muddy streets, barely pausing to wonder what a costermonger actually does or why gin shops ever fell out of fashion. It all feels solidly convincing even if the writing is delicate. There is the sense that you are in safe hands, that O’Donnell has done the research so that you needn’t worry about it, that you can safely lose yourself in the world and mystery that he has so skillfully created ... Cutter and Bliss are a wildly mismatched pair and much of the considerable humour here comes from Bliss’s wide-eyed wonder at the Inspector’s short way with obstacles. Stern and sarcastic, Inspector Cutter can be enrolled immediately in the hall of fame of fictional detectives, not least because he is far more complex than he appears at first ... Despite the historical setting this is a thoroughly modern novel, with fully developed characters grappling with their own psychological issues. Again, O’Donnell touches on this rather than dwelling on it at the expense of the plot, but the notes are very definitely struck ... brilliantly written, compelling and satisfying in so many ways. It demands to be read by a fire on a cold winter evening (but make sure the doors are locked before you begin). I only wish it had been twice as long.
PanThe Irish Times\"The author’s sincere empathy for her characters blurs how we are supposed to feel. Is the gunman’s behaviour understandable? Might we do the same in his place? Well, no, to be frank. Perhaps there’s an unbridgeable cultural gulf between the US and the rest of the world here, but a man shooting unarmed women surely forfeits any claim on our understanding from page one. Justifying his violence – even explaining it – feels dubious ... Picoult includes a couple of highly accomplished last-minute twists that deepen the emotional impact of the book. To get there, we must persevere through a lot of repetition and deflated tension ... Picoult often writes very beautifully and has a matchless talent for hitting emotional notes. Here, though, she seems oddly off-balance ... We look to fiction to make sense of the world, to enlighten and entertain and move us. Jodi Picoult usually does just that, and will again. Ultimately, however, A Spark of Light is tentative in tackling this most complex of issues.\